Two new chapters on the Battle of the Caving banks

1861 – At Opotheyahola’s Camp

Cassius rode the red mule at an easy pace through open woods and meadows toward the Creek Nation. He passed many groups of refugee Indians, women and children in wagons, who pointed out the way to the Creek chief’s house. When stopped by Cherokee home guards and questioned, he stated in Cherokee that he was delivering an urgent message for his master, Principal Chief John Ross. He showed them a folded document from his shirt, one of the chief’s old letters taken from the big desk at Rose Cottage, and presented it to the man who looked at it briefly and handed it back. The man, like many Cherokees, could read, but not English.

As he neared the sprawling camp at Opotheyahola’s house, Cassius saw smoke rising from a hundred fires. He was met by Creek warriors, faces painted, bare-chested despite the cold, wearing cotton turbans, and armed to the teeth. Cattle, sheep and ponies wandered loose.

“Who you be, boy?” asked one of the Creeks.

“Dey calls me Cassius.”

“Where you from?”

“I left off de Ross place in de Cherokee Nation.”

“John Ross know you’re gone?”

“I reckon he know it now.” Cassius laughed and the Creek laughed, too.

“Go on over there and talk to Bowlegs,” the warrior said, pointing out a figure leaning over a fire in the distance.

“Who dat?” Cassius asked.

“Heap big warrior for Opotheyahola.”

Cassius made his way to the designated spot where he found a group of Creeks and Seminoles huddled around the fire. Away from the crowd, several people waited to speak to Bowlegs, who Cassius learned was a Seminole chief. Among them stood a tall black Seminole. Cassius recognized Blackberry, a fellow survivor of the slave revolt. Blackberry had been out hunting when the slaves were captured in the Canadian cane breaks so long ago. Cassius watched while Blackberry talked to the two Indians, then stepped out of line and approached him.

Blackberry looked him up and down and tears welled up in his dark eyes. He made some quick hand signs to the Creeks and moved toward Cassius. “High John,” he said, and they embraced each other, both weeping.

“You here jes in time, my brother. Wese movin north. De grass here is gone, de forces of evil is comin, and we is Kansas bound.”

“Reckon I be goin wit you and watchin yer ol sorry back,” Cassius said, wiping his eyes.

“Firs, les git you fed and git you some weapons. Wese roastin up a beef over at dat big fire. And de guns are over dere at dat wagon.”

An exodus of four thousand Creeks, Seminoles and negroes had already begun to drift north and was crossing into the Cherokee lands. The people traveled in carriages, wagons, two-wheeled carts, riding horses and mules. Many were on foot. Thousands of cattle, sheep and horses were herded into columns. The families went first, then the animals, flanked on all sides by armed warriors.

Albert Pike, who had been commissioned as General of all the Confederate forces in Indian Territory, was immediately alerted that Opotheyahola’s loyal Creeks and a huge armed rabble of Seminoles and runaway slaves were heading north, apparently to rendezvous with Union forces in Kansas. The retreating Creeks were being pursued at a distance by Texas cavalry. Pike ordered Colonel Drew’s regiment of Cherokees to intercept Opotheyahola’s forces and refugees.

Drew’s Mounted Rifles, in pursuit from the east, were mostly all Pin Indians who had been drafted unwillingly into the Confederate ranks when Ross had signed on with the south. The southern leaders thought they could control them and force their loyalty, but Stand Watie had warned Drew not to trust them, to use caution with them. Watie’s men, on the other hand, were die-hard rebels who whistled Dixie while they rode. They were a fierce crew of nigra-hating white Cherokees and many of them owned slaves. Watie stole what he needed to keep them well-armed and well-fed, and he slapped them down if they got too drunk. Drew’s men, in contrast, were solemn, morose, lackluster, and much more dangerous than they looked. They eyed their officers with a primordial hatred that the officers could feel and that had led them to make stupid, careless decisions more than once.

From the south came the Third Texas Cavalry, led by Colonel Douglas Cooper. The Texans were a dangerous, battle-hardened army a generation younger than Sam Houston’s valiant men. Some were Rangers, accustomed to fighting the wild tribes of Comanche and many had seen action in the 1845 American invasion of Mexico.

Opotheyahola was like a Creek Moses parting the Red Sea of the Cherokee Nation’s Coo-wee-scoo-wee District. In his seventh decade of life, he was a strong man. He let Bowlegs command the warriors, while he appeared here, there, and everywhere guiding, urging, and assisting the entire assemblage forward. At a place on Bird Creek called Caving Banks, Opotheyahola called a halt. He stopped the throng of refugees and regrouped his warriors. His scouts had warned him of the approach of the Texans and Drew’s Cherokees. He called his men around him.

“I know this place. With the Caving Banks around us, we are in a very defensible position,” Opotheyahola said, explaining how the steep broken terrain and soft sand made a cavalry assault from the south a risky proposition. “But the white Texans are relentless,” he said. “They will cover the ground. Bowlegs, take your men and be ready to slaughter them. Take your boys. Fill the sky with your black-feathered arrows. I want my Creeks on the east, the Seminole braves on the south, and the freed slaves will hold the center. Make the sky dark with lead.”

The Pin Indian, Watt Christie, was among the shivering and still-damp men who had just crossed the Verdigris River with Colonel Drew’s Mounted Rifles, and who now pulled blankets around their shoulders. They had been warned to keep their campfires low because Opotheyahola and the Loyal Creeks were camped but a few miles away through the rugged woodland. They inched close to the fire, their cheeks burning while toes and fingers stung from the chill as the temperature began to drop. Watt looked around him at the sullen, miserable faces of his companions.

“This is not right,” he told them. “We have now been forced on the warpath against our own people – people who believe as we do.”

Just then Colonel Drew and some officers walked up on them. “I need some scouts to get the lay of the land around the enemy’s camp,” Drew said. Several of the Indians stood up and so did Watt. He was not sleepy and he wished to move about. Mostly, he wanted to find out for himself what was going on. Drew chose Watt and two other men, Tadpole and Billy Sunday, to do the job. All three were Keetoowahs, and Tadpole was married to a Creek woman who had many relatives in Opotheyahola’s camp.

Sunlight drained rapidly from the winter sky as the three walked into the forest toward the Caving Banks. In the last rays of the afternoon, Watt and the others encountered Creek sentries, a pair of warriors with long rifles. Watt glanced at Tadpole and Sunday and then stepped out to reveal himself. He touched his hat in salute and held the lapel of his coat, drawing it away from his body and giving a motion as if he was wrapping it around his heart.

“Who are you?” a Creek warrior shouted.

“Tahlequah,” Watt answered. “And who are you?”

The Creek smiled. “I am Keetoowah’s son.”

Minutes later, the men stood in Opotheyahola’s camp, surrounded by Creeks, Seminoles and Cherokees. They passed a pipe and conversed in several languages.

“There’s nothing stopping you,” Bowlegs told them. “You should come over.”

Watt nodded his agreement.

“Tell your friends to tie corn husks in their hair so we can recognize them. We will all go to Kansas together.”

“When should we do this?” asked Watt.

“Dawn,” Bowlegs said. “Tell the others there are two thousand well-armed warriors here, ready to fight, willing to send them to the Darkening Land. But we will welcome them into our ranks. Tell them to bring all the lead and rations they can gather, and meet us here at dawn.”

Watt, Sunday and Tadpole returned to camp and told Drew the story he was wishing to hear. They described a huge enemy force, knowing that the fearful Drew would not attack. Then the word was spread quietly among the other Pin Indians and plans were laid to leave Drew’s camp before dawn.

A cheer rose among the Creeks and their allied forces as the pin-wearing Cherokees with cornhusks in their hair streamed around the abandoned farm, now being used as a headquarters for Bowlegs. Bowlegs moved among the Cherokees wearing a long shirt and plumed hat and he welcomed them heartily. “Brothers,” he told them, “we are undefeatable now!” The Cherokees tied their horses to trees and began dividing themselves into small groups of warriors, according to clan affiliation and blood ties.

Cassius mingled with the Cherokees and, speaking their tongue, he introduced himself to Watt Christie. “I jes run offa Johnny Ross’s place a few day ago,” he said and Watt laughed.

“How did you leave that reprobate?” Watt asked.

“Da girls in de house say he packin fo a long trip.”

“I would bet that he is.”

“I seen him wit my own eyes a-shakin hans wit Stan Watie.”

Watt shook his head bitterly. “Stay with us,” he said, “There’s a fight coming and it’s going to be thick.”

The next morning broke clear and bitter cold in John Drew’s camp. Well after sunup, the colonel still slept, wrapped up in blankets inside his canvas tent. The morning light and the strange silence brought him out of a deep sleep. He opened the tent flaps, stepped out and surveyed the camp. All was quiet. A few of his officers sat beside a fire. One of the captains brought over a cup of steaming coffee, handed it to him and saluted.

“They’re all gone,” the captain said. “They left while we slept, took munitions, food. The damned Republican Pins are gone!”

“Why wasn’t I wakened?” barked Drew.

“For what, sir? Out of six hundred men we have a few dozen officers left. If you had come shouting orders they’d have killed us every one, sir.”

Drew sipped his coffee while the gravity of his position made him shiver. Through the dull ringing in his ears, he realized the captain was speaking. He strained to hear.

“Your orders, sir?”

“What? Oh. Muster the men. Find me some food. Breakfast.” Drew’s hands and voice shook.

One of his officers who had tracked the deserters rode up quickly. “There’s a large force headed this way, sir!” he cried from horseback.

“Huhhh? Get your gear, men. We must depart this damnable spot and join up with Cooper’s Texans.” Suddenly Drew panicked. He saw himself as from a distance, a short, tawdry footnote to history. His command had deserted him. His career was over. He wished himself home again with his wife. His stomach growled while his ears rang. Breakfast, he thought. What a day.

Drew and his remaining officers mounted quickly and headed south, but after a few minutes one of them piped up, “We forgot about the powder, sir!”

“What? Oh, the powder,” Drew moaned. “We must retrieve the powder.”

They rushed back to the empty camp. There they found Major Pegg. He was still drunk from the night before and had been totally forgotten in the scramble to leave. Pegg was urinating on the trunk of a large oak tree, oblivious to all that had occurred.

“Pegg!” Drew shouted at the man.

“What in the world?” Pegg noticed for the first time the condition of the camp.

“We must flee, Pegg,” said Drew. “The enemy is upon us with four thousand men.”

Again his thoughts turned to breakfast.

Drew and his few loyal officers fled on to Cooper’s Texan camp without decorum. He reported to Cooper, “My men, my whole command, have gone over to the Union side. Those damnable nigra-loving Republican Lincolnites! God damn them all! Oh, Cooper, I am sick…and I must hasten to report, sir, that we are being pursued by a large Creek force – four thousand, I’d guess.”

Cooper frowned at Drew as he spoke softly, “You’ve been guessing wrong so far, Drew…Colonel Watie clearly predicted this very event, that your men would desert you. Go and sit yourself down and eat some breakfast. What a goddamn mess of Yankees and liars and traitors and fools. Shit fire!”

Cooper and his officers quickly ascertained there was no attacking force bearing down on them. John Drew finally sat down with his men to a belated breakfast of taters, biscuits, beans and beef. The Texans stood back and hee-hawed the dining Cherokees for their lack of valor. They grinned, laughed and elbowed each other till they cried. Cooper threw up a line of sentries and a watch was maintained throughout the morning, but the Loyal Creeks and their allies never appeared.

Young Captain Clement Rogers had been detached from Stand Watie’s force to act as a scout for Cooper’s Texas Cavalry. He stood there, that cold windy morning, watching the old man Drew and his few remaining men, all officers, huddled by the fire at Cooper’s camp. “Wretched fools,” he muttered to himself. “Do these blithering idiots even realize how deeply they have disgraced our Confederate Cherokee Nation? They have no order, no discipline. Now they have enriched chief Opotheyahola’s forces to the tune of many hundreds of warriors, horses and guns.” Clement Rogers looked at the deaf old Drew, white hair growing out of his ears and nose. “Damned disgusting choice old Ross picked as leader. I should shoot him in the head right now and save us more trouble.” He spat his tobacco on the icy ground.

Cooper’s Rebs rested in bivouac until just after noon. Then they were summoned by Cooper and his officers to receive orders and go over the battle plans. The Texans were saddled up and ready for a fight. Before they mounted, Cooper addressed them as though they were his own sons. “Boys, our enemy is composed of renegade niggers, cut throat Pins, and zambo trash. Beware…these black Lincolnites will have no compunction about killing you on sight. Cover your brother’s backs and fight like true sons of Texas! Let’s go finish this business and send those traitors to hell.” They mounted in the cold wind and headed into the dense thicket with solemn determination.

1861 – The Battle at the Caving Banks on Muddy Bird Creek

Billy Bowlegs and his Seminole warriors, their brown faces painted red and black, wore cornhusks braided in their thick hair so they would recognize each other even in the dark. They moved quietly south and established a firm position to protect Opotheyahola’s column from the Texas Rebel Calvary’s line of advance. In the center of the horseshoe bend on Muddy Bird Creek, they shored up the abandoned farmhouse and placed logs around on the ground for rifle positions. Bowlegs told his men, “If we don’t stop these Texan crackers here, we sho nuff gonna slow their white asses down a day or two. Shoot their horses – these Texans be walkin home, if they lives. Stay under cover and shoot careful, these tree branches will turn a bullet.”

Cassius looked up at Watt Christie. He wore the braided cornhusk in his long black hair and he seemed to be smelling the air. “They’s comin boys,” he said quietly. The men hunkered down in a brushy spot along the creek, high atop the tree-lined sand banks. The sand was crumbly and unstable and the color and texture of brown sugar.

A mighty fine spot for a swim on a hot August afternoon, Cassius thought, but this was December and a wet cold north wind blew down from Kansas where freedom waited. Across the creek a covey of quail went up with a rush of wings and then several deer bounded down the steep bank through the muddy creek and up toward them. Cassius felt fear grip his insides as he spied the grey-clad figures moving among the trees on the far shore.

“Hold back yer fire,” Watt whispered. An Indian word was hissed and hundreds of turkey calls were being made all around them. Cassius saw some of the Cherokee and Creek men stand up and slap their sides, barking and howling like wolves. Cassius flinched as he heard hundreds of bowstrings popping behind him. The sky darkened as the Creek boys began launching arrows to arc over their position and into the forest beyond the creek

Clem Rogers trotted forward on his horse, picking his way with Cooper’s southern officers and the remnant of Drew’s command. They rode through a prairie sprinkled with big oaks and pecan trees and then into a dense thicket of willows and river birches. The wind seemed to pick up behind them and they heard the rattling cries and taunts of Indian war whoops. Arrows sizzled, falling and cutting dead leaves and branches. Horses screamed and men who were wounded and cursing fell from their saddles into the dead grass. Clem saw Drew’s horse with an arrow through its neck, and watched the old man trying desperately to control the animal as it spun in a circle. Another soldier directly in front of him tumbled end-over-end off his horse, as the wounded beast plunged head-long into a ravine. In the confusion, some of the Confederate riders rode right off the high slippery sand banks and came crashing down through the overgrowth into the Muddy Bird Creek and into the sights of the loyal Indians.

The corn husk wearing Indians opened fire with rifles and shotguns. Horses and men shrieked horribly as they were raked with lead. The Confederates piled into the icy blood-stained creek over their own dead and wounded and withered under the gunfire emanating only dozens of yards away. Watt Christie saw Broom Baldridge, a one-time Keetoowah turned Confederate, struggling with his horse and attempting to lift a wounded man onto it. Watt drew a bead on the center of the rebel traitor’s grey uniform jacket and squeezed the trigger. The mortally wounded Lieutenant Baldridge looked up at Watt, right at him, and seemed to recognize him for a moment. He then fell heavily into the cold muddy water. The Confederate charge stalled and the rebels withdrew into the woods to regroup.

In the distant woods, Cassius could hear the clatter of rifle fire and he looked questioningly at Watt. “Alligator and the Seminoles are hitting their rearguard,” Watt told him. “They’re after the horses and supply wagons.” Movement on the sandy banks beneath them caught Watt’s attention. “Those are our people down there,” he warned. Despite the danger, several ex-field hands had rushed to the water’s edge. Half-naked and barefoot they rummaged for the dead men’s uniforms and boots. Cassius, Watt and the other Pins covered them, staring through rifle sights at the opposite bank. Cassius glanced down at the dead Confederates as several of their stripped, bleeding bodies began to drift slowly down the Muddy Bird Creek.

His horse riddled with lead and his skull bleeding, Clem Rogers stumbled on foot back through the bush with a Colt revolver in his hand. He came across Colonel Drew, sitting as if dazed by his horse as the downed animal kicked weakly on the ground, blood pumping from the arrow wound in its neck. Ignoring Drew, Clem walked over and pulled the arrow from the animal and examined it. “A metal-pointed Creek arrow,” Clem said, turning it over in his hand.

“What?” croaked Drew.

Clem glanced at the old wretch and cocked his revolver. He scanned the brush in every direction. They were alone. One shot would put an end to the man’s misery. But no, he heard a branch snapping behind him. Clem turned his revolver and shot the wounded horse through the brain. “Captain Rogers!” A voice rang out and Clem turned and saw Cooper, who stumbled forward holding an injured arm.

“Yes sir?”

“Captain, can you find a goddamn place to get at em along this creek?”

“I think so sir, yes.”

“How many men do you need?”

Rogers looked around him at the Texans and Cherokee officers who were gathering around Cooper. “Sir if it’s all the same to you I’ll take about twenty of them McIntosh Creeks and your Texans backing us up.”

“Make it happen, Captain Rogers.”

The north wind out of Kansas was bitter cold all that day, bringing freezing rain and sharp stinging sleet. Cassius looked down at his feet. They were cold and wet, but at least he had shoes. He pulled his old blanket up around his head and settled stiffly into the brown leaves. He watched Watt fiddling with a recently acquired Colt pistol. Bowlegs summoned them all back to the fortified farm house and corn cribs that occupied the center of the horseshoe bend. There they found Bowlegs bellowing orders in a mixture of languages. “The Texans have crossed the creek!” he shouted. “Our Chief is leading the people away.” Bowlegs raised his rifle above his head. “We fight them one more time. Here! We fight them very hard. Then we follow the people north!” Someone tossed Bowlegs a Creek spear. He raised it high, then thrust it point first into the sandy ground. Men shouted their assent.

Two hours later the Pins, allied Indians, and free negroes found themselves in a vicious crossfire. In bloody, close-quarter bush combat, the Texans had seized the high ground to the east of the farm and the McIntosh Creeks were holding a dense thicket to their north. Volley after volley was exchanged. The soft round balls splattered through the bush causing nasty flesh wounds by the dozens.

Cassius squatted near Watt behind a corn crib surrounded by black powder stained Pin Indians. Alligator rushed up behind them and placed his hand on Watt’s shoulder. “Not much light lef in de day,” he said hoarsely. “Dere’s a path cut through de brush. We gonna start pullin out. Ten men by ten men. When yo brothers run out – blast de Texans!” Watt nodded and spread the word and Alligator went on down the line giving instructions. Shots continued ringing out and bullets fell among them with increasing precision.

A dozen or more Texans rushed out of the underbrush, crouching low and carrying carbines. Watt and a score of Pins leaned up on one knee and fired a volley, causing some Texans to fall with bullets crashing through them and others to collapse behind trees. While Cassius made ready his shotgun, he saw one of the Pins, Billy Sunday, jerk and drop his gun. Watt held his rifle in one hand and fired a revolver rapidly at the Texans while Cassius grabbed Sunday’s foot and dragged the bleeding man behind the corn crib.

Crouching behind a tree in an elevated position, Clem Rogers watched the fight swirling around the farm house through the haze of black powder smoke. The woods around him were filling with wounded men. A young Texan lieutenant approached Clem and told him Colonel Cooper was holding an impromptu officer’s meeting further back in the woods. Clem followed the lieutenant and found the colonel and a few officers speaking in exhausted tones. They were a bedraggled but determined bunch, and every one had at least one bleeding wound.

Cooper spoke to Clem Rogers. “Do you think we can subdue these Yankee traitors?”

“Sir,” Rogers replied, “the enemy has a thousand or more warriors here in this bend and they appear to be holding their own whilst making an orderly retreat.” Cooper nodded grimly and Clem continued, “If we pursue them into this gathering dusk, we shall end the day by shooting our own men in the darkness.”

“Sir,” a Texas Captain addressed Cooper, “I’ve counted over fifty of our men killed, two hundred wounded and about a hundred downed horses.”

Cooper nodded again and said, “Goddamn those Indians.” Cooper glanced about at his worn and torn men. “We’ve given them as good as we’ve gotten. I’m confident of that.” The officers nodded and assured their colonel that was in fact the case. ”Gentlemen,” he said, “Git the boys that ain’t hurt too bad to start makin stretchers. Bring up the wagons. Let’s git these hurt men out of here.”

“Yes sir.”

“Shall we continue the pursuit sir?” The Texas captain wondered aloud.

“No, let them escape. We have taught them a lesson.”

Clem observed with few comments as the Texas Cavalry set about removing itself from the horseshoe bend. He carried his saddle and bedroll back to the morning’s camp. Sleet and hard specks of snow were falling about the weary men as they trudged back to the campfires. The Texans’ dreams of plunder – of cattle, slaves and glory – is vanishing into the sleet, smoke and darkness, Clem thought. But this land and its wealth is not their birthright, he considered, it is mine.

The next morning Clem awoke early amidst the groans of hundreds of wounded men and saddled a horse he took from the ad-hoc remuda. He rode east throughout the day, finally arriving at Colonel Watie’s camp in the early December darkness. Quickly he told the old man about the battle and how the Pins had defected and how Opotheyahola was still moving north to Kansas.

Stand Watie shook his head and laughed. “Let the black Republicans feed them then,” he said. “It is but one less concern.” Watie handed Clem a bottle and Clem drank and handed it back.

Captain William Penn Adair appeared out of the darkness, wrapped in a greatcoat and with a pained and ominous expression on his face. “Clem…cousin,” he said. “There’s been some very bad news.” He handed Clem a folded piece of paper. “It is from your wife.” Clem opened the letter and held a candle close as he read –

My Dearest Clement –

Our darling baby Elizabeth is no more. The journey from the farm to Mother’s house was too much for her to bear. She took a fever along the trail, and none among us could save her. She lies now in the cold ground, yet I live on, with a heart broken and empty arms that ache for my child. Father is sending me off to Texas in a week’s time, there to remain until this dreadful fighting is over. Until then, I live only to see your face again. May God keep you safe. Your loving wife – Mary America Rogers

1861 – At Opotheyahola’s Camp

Cassius rode the red mule at an easy pace through open woods and meadows toward the Creek Nation. He passed many groups of refugee Indians, women and children in wagons, who pointed out the way to the Creek chief’s house. When stopped by Cherokee home guards and questioned, he stated in Cherokee that he was delivering an urgent message for his master, Principal Chief John Ross. He showed them a folded document from his shirt, one of the chief’s old letters taken from the big desk at Rose Cottage, and presented it to the man who looked at it briefly and handed it back. The man, like many Cherokees, could read, but not English.

As he neared the sprawling camp at Opotheyahola’s house, Cassius saw smoke rising from a hundred fires. He was met by Creek warriors, faces painted, bare-chested despite the cold, wearing cotton turbans, and armed to the teeth. Cattle, sheep and ponies wandered loose.

“Who you be, boy?” asked one of the Creeks.

“Dey calls me Cassius.”

“Where you from?”

“I left off de Ross place in de Cherokee Nation.”

“John Ross know you’re gone?”

“I reckon he know it now.” Cassius laughed and the Creek laughed, too.

“Go on over there and talk to Bowlegs,” the warrior said, pointing out a figure leaning over a fire in the distance.

“Who dat?” Cassius asked.

“Heap big warrior for Opotheyahola.”

Cassius made his way to the designated spot where he found a group of Creeks and Seminoles huddled around the fire. Away from the crowd, several people waited to speak to Bowlegs, who Cassius learned was a Seminole chief. Among them stood a tall black Seminole. Cassius recognized Blackberry, a fellow survivor of the slave revolt. Blackberry had been out hunting when the slaves were captured in the Canadian cane breaks so long ago. Cassius watched while Blackberry talked to the two Indians, then stepped out of line and approached him.

Blackberry looked him up and down and tears welled up in his dark eyes. He made some quick hand signs to the Creeks and moved toward Cassius. “High John,” he said, and they embraced each other, both weeping.

“You here jes in time, my brother. Wese movin north. De grass here is gone, de forces of evil is comin, and we is Kansas bound.”

“Reckon I be goin wit you and watchin yer ol sorry back,” Cassius said, wiping his eyes.

“Firs, les git you fed and git you some weapons. Wese roastin up a beef over at dat big fire. And de guns are over dere at dat wagon.”

An exodus of four thousand Creeks, Seminoles and negroes had already begun to drift north and was crossing into the Cherokee lands. The people traveled in carriages, wagons, two-wheeled carts, riding horses and mules. Many were on foot. Thousands of cattle, sheep and horses were herded into columns. The families went first, then the animals, flanked on all sides by armed warriors.

Albert Pike, who had been commissioned as General of all the Confederate forces in Indian Territory, was immediately alerted that Opotheyahola’s loyal Creeks and a huge armed rabble of Seminoles and runaway slaves were heading north, apparently to rendezvous with Union forces in Kansas. The retreating Creeks were being pursued at a distance by Texas cavalry. Pike ordered Colonel Drew’s regiment of Cherokees to intercept Opotheyahola’s forces and refugees.

Drew’s Mounted Rifles, in pursuit from the east, were mostly all Pin Indians who had been drafted unwillingly into the Confederate ranks when Ross had signed on with the south. The southern leaders thought they could control them and force their loyalty, but Stand Watie had warned Drew not to trust them, to use caution with them. Watie’s men, on the other hand, were die-hard rebels who whistled Dixie while they rode. They were a fierce crew of nigra-hating white Cherokees and many of them owned slaves. Watie stole what he needed to keep them well-armed and well-fed, and he slapped them down if they got too drunk. Drew’s men, in contrast, were solemn, morose, lackluster, and much more dangerous than they looked. They eyed their officers with a primordial hatred that the officers could feel and that had led them to make stupid, careless decisions more than once.

From the south came the Third Texas Cavalry, led by Colonel Douglas Cooper. The Texans were a dangerous, battle-hardened army a generation younger than Sam Houston’s valiant men. Some were Rangers, accustomed to fighting the wild tribes of Comanche and many had seen action in the 1845 American invasion of Mexico.

Opotheyahola was like a Creek Moses parting the Red Sea of the Cherokee Nation’s Coo-wee-scoo-wee District. In his seventh decade of life, he was a strong man. He let Bowlegs command the warriors, while he appeared here, there, and everywhere guiding, urging, and assisting the entire assemblage forward. At a place on Bird Creek called Caving Banks, Opotheyahola called a halt. He stopped the throng of refugees and regrouped his warriors. His scouts had warned him of the approach of the Texans and Drew’s Cherokees. He called his men around him.

“I know this place. With the Caving Banks around us, we are in a very defensible position,” Opotheyahola said, explaining how the steep broken terrain and soft sand made a cavalry assault from the south a risky proposition. “But the white Texans are relentless,” he said. “They will cover the ground. Bowlegs, take your men and be ready to slaughter them. Take your boys. Fill the sky with your black-feathered arrows. I want my Creeks on the east, the Seminole braves on the south, and the freed slaves will hold the center. Make the sky dark with lead.”

The Pin Indian, Watt Christie, was among the shivering and still-damp men who had just crossed the Verdigris River with Colonel Drew’s Mounted Rifles, and who now pulled blankets around their shoulders. They had been warned to keep their campfires low because Opotheyahola and the Loyal Creeks were camped but a few miles away through the rugged woodland. They inched close to the fire, their cheeks burning while toes and fingers stung from the chill as the temperature began to drop. Watt looked around him at the sullen, miserable faces of his companions.

“This is not right,” he told them. “We have now been forced on the warpath against our own people – people who believe as we do.”

Just then Colonel Drew and some officers walked up on them. “I need some scouts to get the lay of the land around the enemy’s camp,” Drew said. Several of the Indians stood up and so did Watt. He was not sleepy and he wished to move about. Mostly, he wanted to find out for himself what was going on. Drew chose Watt and two other men, Tadpole and Billy Sunday, to do the job. All three were Keetoowahs, and Tadpole was married to a Creek woman who had many relatives in Opotheyahola’s camp.

Sunlight drained rapidly from the winter sky as the three walked into the forest toward the Caving Banks. In the last rays of the afternoon, Watt and the others encountered Creek sentries, a pair of warriors with long rifles. Watt glanced at Tadpole and Sunday and then stepped out to reveal himself. He touched his hat in salute and held the lapel of his coat, drawing it away from his body and giving a motion as if he was wrapping it around his heart.

“Who are you?” a Creek warrior shouted.

“Tahlequah,” Watt answered. “And who are you?”

The Creek smiled. “I am Keetoowah’s son.”

Minutes later, the men stood in Opotheyahola’s camp, surrounded by Creeks, Seminoles and Cherokees. They passed a pipe and conversed in several languages.

“There’s nothing stopping you,” Bowlegs told them. “You should come over.”

Watt nodded his agreement.

“Tell your friends to tie corn husks in their hair so we can recognize them. We will all go to Kansas together.”

“When should we do this?” asked Watt.

“Dawn,” Bowlegs said. “Tell the others there are two thousand well-armed warriors here, ready to fight, willing to send them to the Darkening Land. But we will welcome them into our ranks. Tell them to bring all the lead and rations they can gather, and meet us here at dawn.”

Watt, Sunday and Tadpole returned to camp and told Drew the story he was wishing to hear. They described a huge enemy force, knowing that the fearful Drew would not attack. Then the word was spread quietly among the other Pin Indians and plans were laid to leave Drew’s camp before dawn.

A cheer rose among the Creeks and their allied forces as the pin-wearing Cherokees with cornhusks in their hair streamed around the abandoned farm, now being used as a headquarters for Bowlegs. Bowlegs moved among the Cherokees wearing a long shirt and plumed hat and he welcomed them heartily. “Brothers,” he told them, “we are undefeatable now!” The Cherokees tied their horses to trees and began dividing themselves into small groups of warriors, according to clan affiliation and blood ties.

Cassius mingled with the Cherokees and, speaking their tongue, he introduced himself to Watt Christie. “I jes run offa Johnny Ross’s place a few day ago,” he said and Watt laughed.

“How did you leave that reprobate?” Watt asked.

“Da girls in de house say he packin fo a long trip.”

“I would bet that he is.”

“I seen him wit my own eyes a-shakin hans wit Stan Watie.”

Watt shook his head bitterly. “Stay with us,” he said, “There’s a fight coming and it’s going to be thick.”

The next morning broke clear and bitter cold in John Drew’s camp. Well after sunup, the colonel still slept, wrapped up in blankets inside his canvas tent. The morning light and the strange silence brought him out of a deep sleep. He opened the tent flaps, stepped out and surveyed the camp. All was quiet. A few of his officers sat beside a fire. One of the captains brought over a cup of steaming coffee, handed it to him and saluted.

“They’re all gone,” the captain said. “They left while we slept, took munitions, food. The damned Republican Pins are gone!”

“Why wasn’t I wakened?” barked Drew.

“For what, sir? Out of six hundred men we have a few dozen officers left. If you had come shouting orders they’d have killed us every one, sir.”

Drew sipped his coffee while the gravity of his position made him shiver. Through the dull ringing in his ears, he realized the captain was speaking. He strained to hear.

“Your orders, sir?”

“What? Oh. Muster the men. Find me some food. Breakfast.” Drew’s hands and voice shook.

One of his officers who had tracked the deserters rode up quickly. “There’s a large force headed this way, sir!” he cried from horseback.

“Huhhh? Get your gear, men. We must depart this damnable spot and join up with Cooper’s Texans.” Suddenly Drew panicked. He saw himself as from a distance, a short, tawdry footnote to history. His command had deserted him. His career was over. He wished himself home again with his wife. His stomach growled while his ears rang. Breakfast, he thought. What a day.

Drew and his remaining officers mounted quickly and headed south, but after a few minutes one of them piped up, “We forgot about the powder, sir!”

“What? Oh, the powder,” Drew moaned. “We must retrieve the powder.”

They rushed back to the empty camp. There they found Major Pegg. He was still drunk from the night before and had been totally forgotten in the scramble to leave. Pegg was urinating on the trunk of a large oak tree, oblivious to all that had occurred.

“Pegg!” Drew shouted at the man.

“What in the world?” Pegg noticed for the first time the condition of the camp.

“We must flee, Pegg,” said Drew. “The enemy is upon us with four thousand men.”

Again his thoughts turned to breakfast.

Drew and his few loyal officers fled on to Cooper’s Texan camp without decorum. He reported to Cooper, “My men, my whole command, have gone over to the Union side. Those damnable nigra-loving Republican Lincolnites! God damn them all! Oh, Cooper, I am sick…and I must hasten to report, sir, that we are being pursued by a large Creek force – four thousand, I’d guess.”

Cooper frowned at Drew as he spoke softly, “You’ve been guessing wrong so far, Drew…Colonel Watie clearly predicted this very event, that your men would desert you. Go and sit yourself down and eat some breakfast. What a goddamn mess of Yankees and liars and traitors and fools. Shit fire!”

Cooper and his officers quickly ascertained there was no attacking force bearing down on them. John Drew finally sat down with his men to a belated breakfast of taters, biscuits, beans and beef. The Texans stood back and hee-hawed the dining Cherokees for their lack of valor. They grinned, laughed and elbowed each other till they cried. Cooper threw up a line of sentries and a watch was maintained throughout the morning, but the Loyal Creeks and their allies never appeared.

Young Captain Clement Rogers had been detached from Stand Watie’s force to act as a scout for Cooper’s Texas Cavalry. He stood there, that cold windy morning, watching the old man Drew and his few remaining men, all officers, huddled by the fire at Cooper’s camp. “Wretched fools,” he muttered to himself. “Do these blithering idiots even realize how deeply they have disgraced our Confederate Cherokee Nation? They have no order, no discipline. Now they have enriched chief Opotheyahola’s forces to the tune of many hundreds of warriors, horses and guns.” Clement Rogers looked at the deaf old Drew, white hair growing out of his ears and nose. “Damned disgusting choice old Ross picked as leader. I should shoot him in the head right now and save us more trouble.” He spat his tobacco on the icy ground.

Cooper’s Rebs rested in bivouac until just after noon. Then they were summoned by Cooper and his officers to receive orders and go over the battle plans. The Texans were saddled up and ready for a fight. Before they mounted, Cooper addressed them as though they were his own sons. “Boys, our enemy is composed of renegade niggers, cut throat Pins, and zambo trash. Beware…these black Lincolnites will have no compunction about killing you on sight. Cover your brother’s backs and fight like true sons of Texas! Let’s go finish this business and send those traitors to hell.” They mounted in the cold wind and headed into the dense thicket with solemn determination.

1861 – The Battle at the Caving Banks on Muddy Bird Creek

Billy Bowlegs and his Seminole warriors, their brown faces painted red and black, wore cornhusks braided in their thick hair so they would recognize each other even in the dark. They moved quietly south and established a firm position to protect Opotheyahola’s column from the Texas Rebel Calvary’s line of advance. In the center of the horseshoe bend on Muddy Bird Creek, they shored up the abandoned farmhouse and placed logs around on the ground for rifle positions. Bowlegs told his men, “If we don’t stop these Texan crackers here, we sho nuff gonna slow their white asses down a day or two. Shoot their horses – these Texans be walkin home, if they lives. Stay under cover and shoot careful, these tree branches will turn a bullet.”

Cassius looked up at Watt Christie. He wore the braided cornhusk in his long black hair and he seemed to be smelling the air. “They’s comin boys,” he said quietly. The men hunkered down in a brushy spot along the creek, high atop the tree-lined sand banks. The sand was crumbly and unstable and the color and texture of brown sugar.

A mighty fine spot for a swim on a hot August afternoon, Cassius thought, but this was December and a wet cold north wind blew down from Kansas where freedom waited. Across the creek a covey of quail went up with a rush of wings and then several deer bounded down the steep bank through the muddy creek and up toward them. Cassius felt fear grip his insides as he spied the grey-clad figures moving among the trees on the far shore.

“Hold back yer fire,” Watt whispered. An Indian word was hissed and hundreds of turkey calls were being made all around them. Cassius saw some of the Cherokee and Creek men stand up and slap their sides, barking and howling like wolves. Cassius flinched as he heard hundreds of bowstrings popping behind him. The sky darkened as the Creek boys began launching arrows to arc over their position and into the forest beyond the creek

Clem Rogers trotted forward on his horse, picking his way with Cooper’s southern officers and the remnant of Drew’s command. They rode through a prairie sprinkled with big oaks and pecan trees and then into a dense thicket of willows and river birches. The wind seemed to pick up behind them and they heard the rattling cries and taunts of Indian war whoops. Arrows sizzled, falling and cutting dead leaves and branches. Horses screamed and men who were wounded and cursing fell from their saddles into the dead grass. Clem saw Drew’s horse with an arrow through its neck, and watched the old man trying desperately to control the animal as it spun in a circle. Another soldier directly in front of him tumbled end-over-end off his horse, as the wounded beast plunged head-long into a ravine. In the confusion, some of the Confederate riders rode right off the high slippery sand banks and came crashing down through the overgrowth into the Muddy Bird Creek and into the sights of the loyal Indians.

The corn husk wearing Indians opened fire with rifles and shotguns. Horses and men shrieked horribly as they were raked with lead. The Confederates piled into the icy blood-stained creek over their own dead and wounded and withered under the gunfire emanating only dozens of yards away. Watt Christie saw Broom Baldridge, a one-time Keetoowah turned Confederate, struggling with his horse and attempting to lift a wounded man onto it. Watt drew a bead on the center of the rebel traitor’s grey uniform jacket and squeezed the trigger. The mortally wounded Lieutenant Baldridge looked up at Watt, right at him, and seemed to recognize him for a moment. He then fell heavily into the cold muddy water. The Confederate charge stalled and the rebels withdrew into the woods to regroup.

In the distant woods, Cassius could hear the clatter of rifle fire and he looked questioningly at Watt. “Alligator and the Seminoles are hitting their rearguard,” Watt told him. “They’re after the horses and supply wagons.” Movement on the sandy banks beneath them caught Watt’s attention. “Those are our people down there,” he warned. Despite the danger, several ex-field hands had rushed to the water’s edge. Half-naked and barefoot they rummaged for the dead men’s uniforms and boots. Cassius, Watt and the other Pins covered them, staring through rifle sights at the opposite bank. Cassius glanced down at the dead Confederates as several of their stripped, bleeding bodies began to drift slowly down the Muddy Bird Creek.

His horse riddled with lead and his skull bleeding, Clem Rogers stumbled on foot back through the bush with a Colt revolver in his hand. He came across Colonel Drew, sitting as if dazed by his horse as the downed animal kicked weakly on the ground, blood pumping from the arrow wound in its neck. Ignoring Drew, Clem walked over and pulled the arrow from the animal and examined it. “A metal-pointed Creek arrow,” Clem said, turning it over in his hand.

“What?” croaked Drew.

Clem glanced at the old wretch and cocked his revolver. He scanned the brush in every direction. They were alone. One shot would put an end to the man’s misery. But no, he heard a branch snapping behind him. Clem turned his revolver and shot the wounded horse through the brain. “Captain Rogers!” A voice rang out and Clem turned and saw Cooper, who stumbled forward holding an injured arm.

“Yes sir?”

“Captain, can you find a goddamn place to get at em along this creek?”

“I think so sir, yes.”

“How many men do you need?”

Rogers looked around him at the Texans and Cherokee officers who were gathering around Cooper. “Sir if it’s all the same to you I’ll take about twenty of them McIntosh Creeks and your Texans backing us up.”

“Make it happen, Captain Rogers.”

The north wind out of Kansas was bitter cold all that day, bringing freezing rain and sharp stinging sleet. Cassius looked down at his feet. They were cold and wet, but at least he had shoes. He pulled his old blanket up around his head and settled stiffly into the brown leaves. He watched Watt fiddling with a recently acquired Colt pistol. Bowlegs summoned them all back to the fortified farm house and corn cribs that occupied the center of the horseshoe bend. There they found Bowlegs bellowing orders in a mixture of languages. “The Texans have crossed the creek!” he shouted. “Our Chief is leading the people away.” Bowlegs raised his rifle above his head. “We fight them one more time. Here! We fight them very hard. Then we follow the people north!” Someone tossed Bowlegs a Creek spear. He raised it high, then thrust it point first into the sandy ground. Men shouted their assent.

Two hours later the Pins, allied Indians, and free negroes found themselves in a vicious crossfire. In bloody, close-quarter bush combat, the Texans had seized the high ground to the east of the farm and the McIntosh Creeks were holding a dense thicket to their north. Volley after volley was exchanged. The soft round balls splattered through the bush causing nasty flesh wounds by the dozens.

Cassius squatted near Watt behind a corn crib surrounded by black powder stained Pin Indians. Alligator rushed up behind them and placed his hand on Watt’s shoulder. “Not much light lef in de day,” he said hoarsely. “Dere’s a path cut through de brush. We gonna start pullin out. Ten men by ten men. When yo brothers run out – blast de Texans!” Watt nodded and spread the word and Alligator went on down the line giving instructions. Shots continued ringing out and bullets fell among them with increasing precision.

A dozen or more Texans rushed out of the underbrush, crouching low and carrying carbines. Watt and a score of Pins leaned up on one knee and fired a volley, causing some Texans to fall with bullets crashing through them and others to collapse behind trees. While Cassius made ready his shotgun, he saw one of the Pins, Billy Sunday, jerk and drop his gun. Watt held his rifle in one hand and fired a revolver rapidly at the Texans while Cassius grabbed Sunday’s foot and dragged the bleeding man behind the corn crib.

Crouching behind a tree in an elevated position, Clem Rogers watched the fight swirling around the farm house through the haze of black powder smoke. The woods around him were filling with wounded men. A young Texan lieutenant approached Clem and told him Colonel Cooper was holding an impromptu officer’s meeting further back in the woods. Clem followed the lieutenant and found the colonel and a few officers speaking in exhausted tones. They were a bedraggled but determined bunch, and every one had at least one bleeding wound.

Cooper spoke to Clem Rogers. “Do you think we can subdue these Yankee traitors?”

“Sir,” Rogers replied, “the enemy has a thousand or more warriors here in this bend and they appear to be holding their own whilst making an orderly retreat.” Cooper nodded grimly and Clem continued, “If we pursue them into this gathering dusk, we shall end the day by shooting our own men in the darkness.”

“Sir,” a Texas Captain addressed Cooper, “I’ve counted over fifty of our men killed, two hundred wounded and about a hundred downed horses.”

Cooper nodded again and said, “Goddamn those Indians.” Cooper glanced about at his worn and torn men. “We’ve given them as good as we’ve gotten. I’m confident of that.” The officers nodded and assured their colonel that was in fact the case. ”Gentlemen,” he said, “Git the boys that ain’t hurt too bad to start makin stretchers. Bring up the wagons. Let’s git these hurt men out of here.”

“Yes sir.”

“Shall we continue the pursuit sir?” The Texas captain wondered aloud.

“No, let them escape. We have taught them a lesson.”

Clem observed with few comments as the Texas Cavalry set about removing itself from the horseshoe bend. He carried his saddle and bedroll back to the morning’s camp. Sleet and hard specks of snow were falling about the weary men as they trudged back to the campfires. The Texans’ dreams of plunder – of cattle, slaves and glory – is vanishing into the sleet, smoke and darkness, Clem thought. But this land and its wealth is not their birthright, he considered, it is mine.

The next morning Clem awoke early amidst the groans of hundreds of wounded men and saddled a horse he took from the ad-hoc remuda. He rode east throughout the day, finally arriving at Colonel Watie’s camp in the early December darkness. Quickly he told the old man about the battle and how the Pins had defected and how Opotheyahola was still moving north to Kansas.

Stand Watie shook his head and laughed. “Let the black Republicans feed them then,” he said. “It is but one less concern.” Watie handed Clem a bottle and Clem drank and handed it back.

Captain William Penn Adair appeared out of the darkness, wrapped in a greatcoat and with a pained and ominous expression on his face. “Clem…cousin,” he said. “There’s been some very bad news.” He handed Clem a folded piece of paper. “It is from your wife.” Clem opened the letter and held a candle close as he read –

My Dearest Clement –

Our darling baby Elizabeth is no more. The journey from the farm to Mother’s house was too much for her to bear. She took a fever along the trail, and none among us could save her. She lies now in the cold ground, yet I live on, with a heart broken and empty arms that ache for my child. Father is sending me off to Texas in a week’s time, there to remain until this dreadful fighting is over. Until then, I live only to see your face again. May God keep you safe. Your loving wife – Mary America Rogers

1861 – At Opotheyahola’s Camp

Cassius rode the red mule at an easy pace through open woods and meadows toward the Creek Nation. He passed many groups of refugee Indians, women and children in wagons, who pointed out the way to the Creek chief’s house. When stopped by Cherokee home guards and questioned, he stated in Cherokee that he was delivering an urgent message for his master, Principal Chief John Ross. He showed them a folded document from his shirt, one of the chief’s old letters taken from the big desk at Rose Cottage, and presented it to the man who looked at it briefly and handed it back. The man, like many Cherokees, could read, but not English.

As he neared the sprawling camp at Opotheyahola’s house, Cassius saw smoke rising from a hundred fires. He was met by Creek warriors, faces painted, bare-chested despite the cold, wearing cotton turbans, and armed to the teeth. Cattle, sheep and ponies wandered loose.

“Who you be, boy?” asked one of the Creeks.

“Dey calls me Cassius.”

“Where you from?”

“I left off de Ross place in de Cherokee Nation.”

“John Ross know you’re gone?”

“I reckon he know it now.” Cassius laughed and the Creek laughed, too.

“Go on over there and talk to Bowlegs,” the warrior said, pointing out a figure leaning over a fire in the distance.

“Who dat?” Cassius asked.

“Heap big warrior for Opotheyahola.”

Cassius made his way to the designated spot where he found a group of Creeks and Seminoles huddled around the fire. Away from the crowd, several people waited to speak to Bowlegs, who Cassius learned was a Seminole chief. Among them stood a tall black Seminole. Cassius recognized Blackberry, a fellow survivor of the slave revolt. Blackberry had been out hunting when the slaves were captured in the Canadian cane breaks so long ago. Cassius watched while Blackberry talked to the two Indians, then stepped out of line and approached him.

Blackberry looked him up and down and tears welled up in his dark eyes. He made some quick hand signs to the Creeks and moved toward Cassius. “High John,” he said, and they embraced each other, both weeping.

“You here jes in time, my brother. Wese movin north. De grass here is gone, de forces of evil is comin, and we is Kansas bound.”

“Reckon I be goin wit you and watchin yer ol sorry back,” Cassius said, wiping his eyes.

“Firs, les git you fed and git you some weapons. Wese roastin up a beef over at dat big fire. And de guns are over dere at dat wagon.”

An exodus of four thousand Creeks, Seminoles and negroes had already begun to drift north and was crossing into the Cherokee lands. The people traveled in carriages, wagons, two-wheeled carts, riding horses and mules. Many were on foot. Thousands of cattle, sheep and horses were herded into columns. The families went first, then the animals, flanked on all sides by armed warriors.

Albert Pike, who had been commissioned as General of all the Confederate forces in Indian Territory, was immediately alerted that Opotheyahola’s loyal Creeks and a huge armed rabble of Seminoles and runaway slaves were heading north, apparently to rendezvous with Union forces in Kansas. The retreating Creeks were being pursued at a distance by Texas cavalry. Pike ordered Colonel Drew’s regiment of Cherokees to intercept Opotheyahola’s forces and refugees.

Drew’s Mounted Rifles, in pursuit from the east, were mostly all Pin Indians who had been drafted unwillingly into the Confederate ranks when Ross had signed on with the south. The southern leaders thought they could control them and force their loyalty, but Stand Watie had warned Drew not to trust them, to use caution with them. Watie’s men, on the other hand, were die-hard rebels who whistled Dixie while they rode. They were a fierce crew of nigra-hating white Cherokees and many of them owned slaves. Watie stole what he needed to keep them well-armed and well-fed, and he slapped them down if they got too drunk. Drew’s men, in contrast, were solemn, morose, lackluster, and much more dangerous than they looked. They eyed their officers with a primordial hatred that the officers could feel and that had led them to make stupid, careless decisions more than once.

From the south came the Third Texas Cavalry, led by Colonel Douglas Cooper. The Texans were a dangerous, battle-hardened army a generation younger than Sam Houston’s valiant men. Some were Rangers, accustomed to fighting the wild tribes of Comanche and many had seen action in the 1845 American invasion of Mexico.

Opotheyahola was like a Creek Moses parting the Red Sea of the Cherokee Nation’s Coo-wee-scoo-wee District. In his seventh decade of life, he was a strong man. He let Bowlegs command the warriors, while he appeared here, there, and everywhere guiding, urging, and assisting the entire assemblage forward. At a place on Bird Creek called Caving Banks, Opotheyahola called a halt. He stopped the throng of refugees and regrouped his warriors. His scouts had warned him of the approach of the Texans and Drew’s Cherokees. He called his men around him.

“I know this place. With the Caving Banks around us, we are in a very defensible position,” Opotheyahola said, explaining how the steep broken terrain and soft sand made a cavalry assault from the south a risky proposition. “But the white Texans are relentless,” he said. “They will cover the ground. Bowlegs, take your men and be ready to slaughter them. Take your boys. Fill the sky with your black-feathered arrows. I want my Creeks on the east, the Seminole braves on the south, and the freed slaves will hold the center. Make the sky dark with lead.”

The Pin Indian, Watt Christie, was among the shivering and still-damp men who had just crossed the Verdigris River with Colonel Drew’s Mounted Rifles, and who now pulled blankets around their shoulders. They had been warned to keep their campfires low because Opotheyahola and the Loyal Creeks were camped but a few miles away through the rugged woodland. They inched close to the fire, their cheeks burning while toes and fingers stung from the chill as the temperature began to drop. Watt looked around him at the sullen, miserable faces of his companions.

“This is not right,” he told them. “We have now been forced on the warpath against our own people – people who believe as we do.”

Just then Colonel Drew and some officers walked up on them. “I need some scouts to get the lay of the land around the enemy’s camp,” Drew said. Several of the Indians stood up and so did Watt. He was not sleepy and he wished to move about. Mostly, he wanted to find out for himself what was going on. Drew chose Watt and two other men, Tadpole and Billy Sunday, to do the job. All three were Keetoowahs, and Tadpole was married to a Creek woman who had many relatives in Opotheyahola’s camp.

Sunlight drained rapidly from the winter sky as the three walked into the forest toward the Caving Banks. In the last rays of the afternoon, Watt and the others encountered Creek sentries, a pair of warriors with long rifles. Watt glanced at Tadpole and Sunday and then stepped out to reveal himself. He touched his hat in salute and held the lapel of his coat, drawing it away from his body and giving a motion as if he was wrapping it around his heart.

“Who are you?” a Creek warrior shouted.

“Tahlequah,” Watt answered. “And who are you?”

The Creek smiled. “I am Keetoowah’s son.”

Minutes later, the men stood in Opotheyahola’s camp, surrounded by Creeks, Seminoles and Cherokees. They passed a pipe and conversed in several languages.

“There’s nothing stopping you,” Bowlegs told them. “You should come over.”

Watt nodded his agreement.

“Tell your friends to tie corn husks in their hair so we can recognize them. We will all go to Kansas together.”

“When should we do this?” asked Watt.

“Dawn,” Bowlegs said. “Tell the others there are two thousand well-armed warriors here, ready to fight, willing to send them to the Darkening Land. But we will welcome them into our ranks. Tell them to bring all the lead and rations they can gather, and meet us here at dawn.”

Watt, Sunday and Tadpole returned to camp and told Drew the story he was wishing to hear. They described a huge enemy force, knowing that the fearful Drew would not attack. Then the word was spread quietly among the other Pin Indians and plans were laid to leave Drew’s camp before dawn.

A cheer rose among the Creeks and their allied forces as the pin-wearing Cherokees with cornhusks in their hair streamed around the abandoned farm, now being used as a headquarters for Bowlegs. Bowlegs moved among the Cherokees wearing a long shirt and plumed hat and he welcomed them heartily. “Brothers,” he told them, “we are undefeatable now!” The Cherokees tied their horses to trees and began dividing themselves into small groups of warriors, according to clan affiliation and blood ties.

Cassius mingled with the Cherokees and, speaking their tongue, he introduced himself to Watt Christie. “I jes run offa Johnny Ross’s place a few day ago,” he said and Watt laughed.

“How did you leave that reprobate?” Watt asked.

“Da girls in de house say he packin fo a long trip.”

“I would bet that he is.”

“I seen him wit my own eyes a-shakin hans wit Stan Watie.”

Watt shook his head bitterly. “Stay with us,” he said, “There’s a fight coming and it’s going to be thick.”

The next morning broke clear and bitter cold in John Drew’s camp. Well after sunup, the colonel still slept, wrapped up in blankets inside his canvas tent. The morning light and the strange silence brought him out of a deep sleep. He opened the tent flaps, stepped out and surveyed the camp. All was quiet. A few of his officers sat beside a fire. One of the captains brought over a cup of steaming coffee, handed it to him and saluted.

“They’re all gone,” the captain said. “They left while we slept, took munitions, food. The damned Republican Pins are gone!”

“Why wasn’t I wakened?” barked Drew.

“For what, sir? Out of six hundred men we have a few dozen officers left. If you had come shouting orders they’d have killed us every one, sir.”

Drew sipped his coffee while the gravity of his position made him shiver. Through the dull ringing in his ears, he realized the captain was speaking. He strained to hear.

“Your orders, sir?”

“What? Oh. Muster the men. Find me some food. Breakfast.” Drew’s hands and voice shook.

One of his officers who had tracked the deserters rode up quickly. “There’s a large force headed this way, sir!” he cried from horseback.

“Huhhh? Get your gear, men. We must depart this damnable spot and join up with Cooper’s Texans.” Suddenly Drew panicked. He saw himself as from a distance, a short, tawdry footnote to history. His command had deserted him. His career was over. He wished himself home again with his wife. His stomach growled while his ears rang. Breakfast, he thought. What a day.

Drew and his remaining officers mounted quickly and headed south, but after a few minutes one of them piped up, “We forgot about the powder, sir!”

“What? Oh, the powder,” Drew moaned. “We must retrieve the powder.”

They rushed back to the empty camp. There they found Major Pegg. He was still drunk from the night before and had been totally forgotten in the scramble to leave. Pegg was urinating on the trunk of a large oak tree, oblivious to all that had occurred.

“Pegg!” Drew shouted at the man.

“What in the world?” Pegg noticed for the first time the condition of the camp.

“We must flee, Pegg,” said Drew. “The enemy is upon us with four thousand men.”

Again his thoughts turned to breakfast.

Drew and his few loyal officers fled on to Cooper’s Texan camp without decorum. He reported to Cooper, “My men, my whole command, have gone over to the Union side. Those damnable nigra-loving Republican Lincolnites! God damn them all! Oh, Cooper, I am sick…and I must hasten to report, sir, that we are being pursued by a large Creek force – four thousand, I’d guess.”

Cooper frowned at Drew as he spoke softly, “You’ve been guessing wrong so far, Drew…Colonel Watie clearly predicted this very event, that your men would desert you. Go and sit yourself down and eat some breakfast. What a goddamn mess of Yankees and liars and traitors and fools. Shit fire!”

Cooper and his officers quickly ascertained there was no attacking force bearing down on them. John Drew finally sat down with his men to a belated breakfast of taters, biscuits, beans and beef. The Texans stood back and hee-hawed the dining Cherokees for their lack of valor. They grinned, laughed and elbowed each other till they cried. Cooper threw up a line of sentries and a watch was maintained throughout the morning, but the Loyal Creeks and their allies never appeared.

Young Captain Clement Rogers had been detached from Stand Watie’s force to act as a scout for Cooper’s Texas Cavalry. He stood there, that cold windy morning, watching the old man Drew and his few remaining men, all officers, huddled by the fire at Cooper’s camp. “Wretched fools,” he muttered to himself. “Do these blithering idiots even realize how deeply they have disgraced our Confederate Cherokee Nation? They have no order, no discipline. Now they have enriched chief Opotheyahola’s forces to the tune of many hundreds of warriors, horses and guns.” Clement Rogers looked at the deaf old Drew, white hair growing out of his ears and nose. “Damned disgusting choice old Ross picked as leader. I should shoot him in the head right now and save us more trouble.” He spat his tobacco on the icy ground.

Cooper’s Rebs rested in bivouac until just after noon. Then they were summoned by Cooper and his officers to receive orders and go over the battle plans. The Texans were saddled up and ready for a fight. Before they mounted, Cooper addressed them as though they were his own sons. “Boys, our enemy is composed of renegade niggers, cut throat Pins, and zambo trash. Beware…these black Lincolnites will have no compunction about killing you on sight. Cover your brother’s backs and fight like true sons of Texas! Let’s go finish this business and send those traitors to hell.” They mounted in the cold wind and headed into the dense thicket with solemn determination.

1861 – The Battle at the Caving Banks on Muddy Bird Creek

Billy Bowlegs and his Seminole warriors, their brown faces painted red and black, wore cornhusks braided in their thick hair so they would recognize each other even in the dark. They moved quietly south and established a firm position to protect Opotheyahola’s column from the Texas Rebel Calvary’s line of advance. In the center of the horseshoe bend on Muddy Bird Creek, they shored up the abandoned farmhouse and placed logs around on the ground for rifle positions. Bowlegs told his men, “If we don’t stop these Texan crackers here, we sho nuff gonna slow their white asses down a day or two. Shoot their horses – these Texans be walkin home, if they lives. Stay under cover and shoot careful, these tree branches will turn a bullet.”

Cassius looked up at Watt Christie. He wore the braided cornhusk in his long black hair and he seemed to be smelling the air. “They’s comin boys,” he said quietly. The men hunkered down in a brushy spot along the creek, high atop the tree-lined sand banks. The sand was crumbly and unstable and the color and texture of brown sugar.

A mighty fine spot for a swim on a hot August afternoon, Cassius thought, but this was December and a wet cold north wind blew down from Kansas where freedom waited. Across the creek a covey of quail went up with a rush of wings and then several deer bounded down the steep bank through the muddy creek and up toward them. Cassius felt fear grip his insides as he spied the grey-clad figures moving among the trees on the far shore.

“Hold back yer fire,” Watt whispered. An Indian word was hissed and hundreds of turkey calls were being made all around them. Cassius saw some of the Cherokee and Creek men stand up and slap their sides, barking and howling like wolves. Cassius flinched as he heard hundreds of bowstrings popping behind him. The sky darkened as the Creek boys began launching arrows to arc over their position and into the forest beyond the creek

Clem Rogers trotted forward on his horse, picking his way with Cooper’s southern officers and the remnant of Drew’s command. They rode through a prairie sprinkled with big oaks and pecan trees and then into a dense thicket of willows and river birches. The wind seemed to pick up behind them and they heard the rattling cries and taunts of Indian war whoops. Arrows sizzled, falling and cutting dead leaves and branches. Horses screamed and men who were wounded and cursing fell from their saddles into the dead grass. Clem saw Drew’s horse with an arrow through its neck, and watched the old man trying desperately to control the animal as it spun in a circle. Another soldier directly in front of him tumbled end-over-end off his horse, as the wounded beast plunged head-long into a ravine. In the confusion, some of the Confederate riders rode right off the high slippery sand banks and came crashing down through the overgrowth into the Muddy Bird Creek and into the sights of the loyal Indians.

The corn husk wearing Indians opened fire with rifles and shotguns. Horses and men shrieked horribly as they were raked with lead. The Confederates piled into the icy blood-stained creek over their own dead and wounded and withered under the gunfire emanating only dozens of yards away. Watt Christie saw Broom Baldridge, a one-time Keetoowah turned Confederate, struggling with his horse and attempting to lift a wounded man onto it. Watt drew a bead on the center of the rebel traitor’s grey uniform jacket and squeezed the trigger. The mortally wounded Lieutenant Baldridge looked up at Watt, right at him, and seemed to recognize him for a moment. He then fell heavily into the cold muddy water. The Confederate charge stalled and the rebels withdrew into the woods to regroup.

In the distant woods, Cassius could hear the clatter of rifle fire and he looked questioningly at Watt. “Alligator and the Seminoles are hitting their rearguard,” Watt told him. “They’re after the horses and supply wagons.” Movement on the sandy banks beneath them caught Watt’s attention. “Those are our people down there,” he warned. Despite the danger, several ex-field hands had rushed to the water’s edge. Half-naked and barefoot they rummaged for the dead men’s uniforms and boots. Cassius, Watt and the other Pins covered them, staring through rifle sights at the opposite bank. Cassius glanced down at the dead Confederates as several of their stripped, bleeding bodies began to drift slowly down the Muddy Bird Creek.

His horse riddled with lead and his skull bleeding, Clem Rogers stumbled on foot back through the bush with a Colt revolver in his hand. He came across Colonel Drew, sitting as if dazed by his horse as the downed animal kicked weakly on the ground, blood pumping from the arrow wound in its neck. Ignoring Drew, Clem walked over and pulled the arrow from the animal and examined it. “A metal-pointed Creek arrow,” Clem said, turning it over in his hand.

“What?” croaked Drew.

Clem glanced at the old wretch and cocked his revolver. He scanned the brush in every direction. They were alone. One shot would put an end to the man’s misery. But no, he heard a branch snapping behind him. Clem turned his revolver and shot the wounded horse through the brain. “Captain Rogers!” A voice rang out and Clem turned and saw Cooper, who stumbled forward holding an injured arm.

“Yes sir?”

“Captain, can you find a goddamn place to get at em along this creek?”

“I think so sir, yes.”

“How many men do you need?”

Rogers looked around him at the Texans and Cherokee officers who were gathering around Cooper. “Sir if it’s all the same to you I’ll take about twenty of them McIntosh Creeks and your Texans backing us up.”

“Make it happen, Captain Rogers.”

The north wind out of Kansas was bitter cold all that day, bringing freezing rain and sharp stinging sleet. Cassius looked down at his feet. They were cold and wet, but at least he had shoes. He pulled his old blanket up around his head and settled stiffly into the brown leaves. He watched Watt fiddling with a recently acquired Colt pistol. Bowlegs summoned them all back to the fortified farm house and corn cribs that occupied the center of the horseshoe bend. There they found Bowlegs bellowing orders in a mixture of languages. “The Texans have crossed the creek!” he shouted. “Our Chief is leading the people away.” Bowlegs raised his rifle above his head. “We fight them one more time. Here! We fight them very hard. Then we follow the people north!” Someone tossed Bowlegs a Creek spear. He raised it high, then thrust it point first into the sandy ground. Men shouted their assent.

Two hours later the Pins, allied Indians, and free negroes found themselves in a vicious crossfire. In bloody, close-quarter bush combat, the Texans had seized the high ground to the east of the farm and the McIntosh Creeks were holding a dense thicket to their north. Volley after volley was exchanged. The soft round balls splattered through the bush causing nasty flesh wounds by the dozens.

Cassius squatted near Watt behind a corn crib surrounded by black powder stained Pin Indians. Alligator rushed up behind them and placed his hand on Watt’s shoulder. “Not much light lef in de day,” he said hoarsely. “Dere’s a path cut through de brush. We gonna start pullin out. Ten men by ten men. When yo brothers run out – blast de Texans!” Watt nodded and spread the word and Alligator went on down the line giving instructions. Shots continued ringing out and bullets fell among them with increasing precision.

A dozen or more Texans rushed out of the underbrush, crouching low and carrying carbines. Watt and a score of Pins leaned up on one knee and fired a volley, causing some Texans to fall with bullets crashing through them and others to collapse behind trees. While Cassius made ready his shotgun, he saw one of the Pins, Billy Sunday, jerk and drop his gun. Watt held his rifle in one hand and fired a revolver rapidly at the Texans while Cassius grabbed Sunday’s foot and dragged the bleeding man behind the corn crib.

Crouching behind a tree in an elevated position, Clem Rogers watched the fight swirling around the farm house through the haze of black powder smoke. The woods around him were filling with wounded men. A young Texan lieutenant approached Clem and told him Colonel Cooper was holding an impromptu officer’s meeting further back in the woods. Clem followed the lieutenant and found the colonel and a few officers speaking in exhausted tones. They were a bedraggled but determined bunch, and every one had at least one bleeding wound.

Cooper spoke to Clem Rogers. “Do you think we can subdue these Yankee traitors?”

“Sir,” Rogers replied, “the enemy has a thousand or more warriors here in this bend and they appear to be holding their own whilst making an orderly retreat.” Cooper nodded grimly and Clem continued, “If we pursue them into this gathering dusk, we shall end the day by shooting our own men in the darkness.”

“Sir,” a Texas Captain addressed Cooper, “I’ve counted over fifty of our men killed, two hundred wounded and about a hundred downed horses.”

Cooper nodded again and said, “Goddamn those Indians.” Cooper glanced about at his worn and torn men. “We’ve given them as good as we’ve gotten. I’m confident of that.” The officers nodded and assured their colonel that was in fact the case. ”Gentlemen,” he said, “Git the boys that ain’t hurt too bad to start makin stretchers. Bring up the wagons. Let’s git these hurt men out of here.”

“Yes sir.”

“Shall we continue the pursuit sir?” The Texas captain wondered aloud.

“No, let them escape. We have taught them a lesson.”

Clem observed with few comments as the Texas Cavalry set about removing itself from the horseshoe bend. He carried his saddle and bedroll back to the morning’s camp. Sleet and hard specks of snow were falling about the weary men as they trudged back to the campfires. The Texans’ dreams of plunder – of cattle, slaves and glory – is vanishing into the sleet, smoke and darkness, Clem thought. But this land and its wealth is not their birthright, he considered, it is mine.

The next morning Clem awoke early amidst the groans of hundreds of wounded men and saddled a horse he took from the ad-hoc remuda. He rode east throughout the day, finally arriving at Colonel Watie’s camp in the early December darkness. Quickly he told the old man about the battle and how the Pins had defected and how Opotheyahola was still moving north to Kansas.

Stand Watie shook his head and laughed. “Let the black Republicans feed them then,” he said. “It is but one less concern.” Watie handed Clem a bottle and Clem drank and handed it back.

Captain William Penn Adair appeared out of the darkness, wrapped in a greatcoat and with a pained and ominous expression on his face. “Clem…cousin,” he said. “There’s been some very bad news.” He handed Clem a folded piece of paper. “It is from your wife.” Clem opened the letter and held a candle close as he read –

My Dearest Clement –

Our darling baby Elizabeth is no more. The journey from the farm to Mother’s house was too much for her to bear. She took a fever along the trail, and none among us could save her. She lies now in the cold ground, yet I live on, with a heart broken and empty arms that ache for my child. Father is sending me off to Texas in a week’s time, there to remain until this dreadful fighting is over. Until then, I live only to see your face again. May God keep you safe. Your loving wife – Mary America Rogers

1861 – At Opotheyahola’s Camp

Cassius rode the red mule at an easy pace through open woods and meadows toward the Creek Nation. He passed many groups of refugee Indians, women and children in wagons, who pointed out the way to the Creek chief’s house. When stopped by Cherokee home guards and questioned, he stated in Cherokee that he was delivering an urgent message for his master, Principal Chief John Ross. He showed them a folded document from his shirt, one of the chief’s old letters taken from the big desk at Rose Cottage, and presented it to the man who looked at it briefly and handed it back. The man, like many Cherokees, could read, but not English.

As he neared the sprawling camp at Opotheyahola’s house, Cassius saw smoke rising from a hundred fires. He was met by Creek warriors, faces painted, bare-chested despite the cold, wearing cotton turbans, and armed to the teeth. Cattle, sheep and ponies wandered loose.

“Who you be, boy?” asked one of the Creeks.

“Dey calls me Cassius.”

“Where you from?”

“I left off de Ross place in de Cherokee Nation.”

“John Ross know you’re gone?”

“I reckon he know it now.” Cassius laughed and the Creek laughed, too.

“Go on over there and talk to Bowlegs,” the warrior said, pointing out a figure leaning over a fire in the distance.

“Who dat?” Cassius asked.

“Heap big warrior for Opotheyahola.”

Cassius made his way to the designated spot where he found a group of Creeks and Seminoles huddled around the fire. Away from the crowd, several people waited to speak to Bowlegs, who Cassius learned was a Seminole chief. Among them stood a tall black Seminole. Cassius recognized Blackberry, a fellow survivor of the slave revolt. Blackberry had been out hunting when the slaves were captured in the Canadian cane breaks so long ago. Cassius watched while Blackberry talked to the two Indians, then stepped out of line and approached him.

Blackberry looked him up and down and tears welled up in his dark eyes. He made some quick hand signs to the Creeks and moved toward Cassius. “High John,” he said, and they embraced each other, both weeping.

“You here jes in time, my brother. Wese movin north. De grass here is gone, de forces of evil is comin, and we is Kansas bound.”

“Reckon I be goin wit you and watchin yer ol sorry back,” Cassius said, wiping his eyes.

“Firs, les git you fed and git you some weapons. Wese roastin up a beef over at dat big fire. And de guns are over dere at dat wagon.”

An exodus of four thousand Creeks, Seminoles and negroes had already begun to drift north and was crossing into the Cherokee lands. The people traveled in carriages, wagons, two-wheeled carts, riding horses and mules. Many were on foot. Thousands of cattle, sheep and horses were herded into columns. The families went first, then the animals, flanked on all sides by armed warriors.

Albert Pike, who had been commissioned as General of all the Confederate forces in Indian Territory, was immediately alerted that Opotheyahola’s loyal Creeks and a huge armed rabble of Seminoles and runaway slaves were heading north, apparently to rendezvous with Union forces in Kansas. The retreating Creeks were being pursued at a distance by Texas cavalry. Pike ordered Colonel Drew’s regiment of Cherokees to intercept Opotheyahola’s forces and refugees.

Drew’s Mounted Rifles, in pursuit from the east, were mostly all Pin Indians who had been drafted unwillingly into the Confederate ranks when Ross had signed on with the south. The southern leaders thought they could control them and force their loyalty, but Stand Watie had warned Drew not to trust them, to use caution with them. Watie’s men, on the other hand, were die-hard rebels who whistled Dixie while they rode. They were a fierce crew of nigra-hating white Cherokees and many of them owned slaves. Watie stole what he needed to keep them well-armed and well-fed, and he slapped them down if they got too drunk. Drew’s men, in contrast, were solemn, morose, lackluster, and much more dangerous than they looked. They eyed their officers with a primordial hatred that the officers could feel and that had led them to make stupid, careless decisions more than once.

From the south came the Third Texas Cavalry, led by Colonel Douglas Cooper. The Texans were a dangerous, battle-hardened army a generation younger than Sam Houston’s valiant men. Some were Rangers, accustomed to fighting the wild tribes of Comanche and many had seen action in the 1845 American invasion of Mexico.

Opotheyahola was like a Creek Moses parting the Red Sea of the Cherokee Nation’s Coo-wee-scoo-wee District. In his seventh decade of life, he was a strong man. He let Bowlegs command the warriors, while he appeared here, there, and everywhere guiding, urging, and assisting the entire assemblage forward. At a place on Bird Creek called Caving Banks, Opotheyahola called a halt. He stopped the throng of refugees and regrouped his warriors. His scouts had warned him of the approach of the Texans and Drew’s Cherokees. He called his men around him.

“I know this place. With the Caving Banks around us, we are in a very defensible position,” Opotheyahola said, explaining how the steep broken terrain and soft sand made a cavalry assault from the south a risky proposition. “But the white Texans are relentless,” he said. “They will cover the ground. Bowlegs, take your men and be ready to slaughter them. Take your boys. Fill the sky with your black-feathered arrows. I want my Creeks on the east, the Seminole braves on the south, and the freed slaves will hold the center. Make the sky dark with lead.”

The Pin Indian, Watt Christie, was among the shivering and still-damp men who had just crossed the Verdigris River with Colonel Drew’s Mounted Rifles, and who now pulled blankets around their shoulders. They had been warned to keep their campfires low because Opotheyahola and the Loyal Creeks were camped but a few miles away through the rugged woodland. They inched close to the fire, their cheeks burning while toes and fingers stung from the chill as the temperature began to drop. Watt looked around him at the sullen, miserable faces of his companions.

“This is not right,” he told them. “We have now been forced on the warpath against our own people – people who believe as we do.”

Just then Colonel Drew and some officers walked up on them. “I need some scouts to get the lay of the land around the enemy’s camp,” Drew said. Several of the Indians stood up and so did Watt. He was not sleepy and he wished to move about. Mostly, he wanted to find out for himself what was going on. Drew chose Watt and two other men, Tadpole and Billy Sunday, to do the job. All three were Keetoowahs, and Tadpole was married to a Creek woman who had many relatives in Opotheyahola’s camp.

Sunlight drained rapidly from the winter sky as the three walked into the forest toward the Caving Banks. In the last rays of the afternoon, Watt and the others encountered Creek sentries, a pair of warriors with long rifles. Watt glanced at Tadpole and Sunday and then stepped out to reveal himself. He touched his hat in salute and held the lapel of his coat, drawing it away from his body and giving a motion as if he was wrapping it around his heart.

“Who are you?” a Creek warrior shouted.

“Tahlequah,” Watt answered. “And who are you?”

The Creek smiled. “I am Keetoowah’s son.”

Minutes later, the men stood in Opotheyahola’s camp, surrounded by Creeks, Seminoles and Cherokees. They passed a pipe and conversed in several languages.

“There’s nothing stopping you,” Bowlegs told them. “You should come over.”

Watt nodded his agreement.

“Tell your friends to tie corn husks in their hair so we can recognize them. We will all go to Kansas together.”

“When should we do this?” asked Watt.

“Dawn,” Bowlegs said. “Tell the others there are two thousand well-armed warriors here, ready to fight, willing to send them to the Darkening Land. But we will welcome them into our ranks. Tell them to bring all the lead and rations they can gather, and meet us here at dawn.”

Watt, Sunday and Tadpole returned to camp and told Drew the story he was wishing to hear. They described a huge enemy force, knowing that the fearful Drew would not attack. Then the word was spread quietly among the other Pin Indians and plans were laid to leave Drew’s camp before dawn.

A cheer rose among the Creeks and their allied forces as the pin-wearing Cherokees with cornhusks in their hair streamed around the abandoned farm, now being used as a headquarters for Bowlegs. Bowlegs moved among the Cherokees wearing a long shirt and plumed hat and he welcomed them heartily. “Brothers,” he told them, “we are undefeatable now!” The Cherokees tied their horses to trees and began dividing themselves into small groups of warriors, according to clan affiliation and blood ties.

Cassius mingled with the Cherokees and, speaking their tongue, he introduced himself to Watt Christie. “I jes run offa Johnny Ross’s place a few day ago,” he said and Watt laughed.

“How did you leave that reprobate?” Watt asked.

“Da girls in de house say he packin fo a long trip.”

“I would bet that he is.”

“I seen him wit my own eyes a-shakin hans wit Stan Watie.”

Watt shook his head bitterly. “Stay with us,” he said, “There’s a fight coming and it’s going to be thick.”

The next morning broke clear and bitter cold in John Drew’s camp. Well after sunup, the colonel still slept, wrapped up in blankets inside his canvas tent. The morning light and the strange silence brought him out of a deep sleep. He opened the tent flaps, stepped out and surveyed the camp. All was quiet. A few of his officers sat beside a fire. One of the captains brought over a cup of steaming coffee, handed it to him and saluted.

“They’re all gone,” the captain said. “They left while we slept, took munitions, food. The damned Republican Pins are gone!”

“Why wasn’t I wakened?” barked Drew.

“For what, sir? Out of six hundred men we have a few dozen officers left. If you had come shouting orders they’d have killed us every one, sir.”

Drew sipped his coffee while the gravity of his position made him shiver. Through the dull ringing in his ears, he realized the captain was speaking. He strained to hear.

“Your orders, sir?”

“What? Oh. Muster the men. Find me some food. Breakfast.” Drew’s hands and voice shook.

One of his officers who had tracked the deserters rode up quickly. “There’s a large force headed this way, sir!” he cried from horseback.

“Huhhh? Get your gear, men. We must depart this damnable spot and join up with Cooper’s Texans.” Suddenly Drew panicked. He saw himself as from a distance, a short, tawdry footnote to history. His command had deserted him. His career was over. He wished himself home again with his wife. His stomach growled while his ears rang. Breakfast, he thought. What a day.

Drew and his remaining officers mounted quickly and headed south, but after a few minutes one of them piped up, “We forgot about the powder, sir!”

“What? Oh, the powder,” Drew moaned. “We must retrieve the powder.”

They rushed back to the empty camp. There they found Major Pegg. He was still drunk from the night before and had been totally forgotten in the scramble to leave. Pegg was urinating on the trunk of a large oak tree, oblivious to all that had occurred.

“Pegg!” Drew shouted at the man.

“What in the world?” Pegg noticed for the first time the condition of the camp.

“We must flee, Pegg,” said Drew. “The enemy is upon us with four thousand men.”

Again his thoughts turned to breakfast.

Drew and his few loyal officers fled on to Cooper’s Texan camp without decorum. He reported to Cooper, “My men, my whole command, have gone over to the Union side. Those damnable nigra-loving Republican Lincolnites! God damn them all! Oh, Cooper, I am sick…and I must hasten to report, sir, that we are being pursued by a large Creek force – four thousand, I’d guess.”

Cooper frowned at Drew as he spoke softly, “You’ve been guessing wrong so far, Drew…Colonel Watie clearly predicted this very event, that your men would desert you. Go and sit yourself down and eat some breakfast. What a goddamn mess of Yankees and liars and traitors and fools. Shit fire!”

Cooper and his officers quickly ascertained there was no attacking force bearing down on them. John Drew finally sat down with his men to a belated breakfast of taters, biscuits, beans and beef. The Texans stood back and hee-hawed the dining Cherokees for their lack of valor. They grinned, laughed and elbowed each other till they cried. Cooper threw up a line of sentries and a watch was maintained throughout the morning, but the Loyal Creeks and their allies never appeared.

Young Captain Clement Rogers had been detached from Stand Watie’s force to act as a scout for Cooper’s Texas Cavalry. He stood there, that cold windy morning, watching the old man Drew and his few remaining men, all officers, huddled by the fire at Cooper’s camp. “Wretched fools,” he muttered to himself. “Do these blithering idiots even realize how deeply they have disgraced our Confederate Cherokee Nation? They have no order, no discipline. Now they have enriched chief Opotheyahola’s forces to the tune of many hundreds of warriors, horses and guns.” Clement Rogers looked at the deaf old Drew, white hair growing out of his ears and nose. “Damned disgusting choice old Ross picked as leader. I should shoot him in the head right now and save us more trouble.” He spat his tobacco on the icy ground.

Cooper’s Rebs rested in bivouac until just after noon. Then they were summoned by Cooper and his officers to receive orders and go over the battle plans. The Texans were saddled up and ready for a fight. Before they mounted, Cooper addressed them as though they were his own sons. “Boys, our enemy is composed of renegade niggers, cut throat Pins, and zambo trash. Beware…these black Lincolnites will have no compunction about killing you on sight. Cover your brother’s backs and fight like true sons of Texas! Let’s go finish this business and send those traitors to hell.” They mounted in the cold wind and headed into the dense thicket with solemn determination.

1861 – The Battle at the Caving Banks on Muddy Bird Creek

Billy Bowlegs and his Seminole warriors, their brown faces painted red and black, wore cornhusks braided in their thick hair so they would recognize each other even in the dark. They moved quietly south and established a firm position to protect Opotheyahola’s column from the Texas Rebel Calvary’s line of advance. In the center of the horseshoe bend on Muddy Bird Creek, they shored up the abandoned farmhouse and placed logs around on the ground for rifle positions. Bowlegs told his men, “If we don’t stop these Texan crackers here, we sho nuff gonna slow their white asses down a day or two. Shoot their horses – these Texans be walkin home, if they lives. Stay under cover and shoot careful, these tree branches will turn a bullet.”

Cassius looked up at Watt Christie. He wore the braided cornhusk in his long black hair and he seemed to be smelling the air. “They’s comin boys,” he said quietly. The men hunkered down in a brushy spot along the creek, high atop the tree-lined sand banks. The sand was crumbly and unstable and the color and texture of brown sugar.

A mighty fine spot for a swim on a hot August afternoon, Cassius thought, but this was December and a wet cold north wind blew down from Kansas where freedom waited. Across the creek a covey of quail went up with a rush of wings and then several deer bounded down the steep bank through the muddy creek and up toward them. Cassius felt fear grip his insides as he spied the grey-clad figures moving among the trees on the far shore.

“Hold back yer fire,” Watt whispered. An Indian word was hissed and hundreds of turkey calls were being made all around them. Cassius saw some of the Cherokee and Creek men stand up and slap their sides, barking and howling like wolves. Cassius flinched as he heard hundreds of bowstrings popping behind him. The sky darkened as the Creek boys began launching arrows to arc over their position and into the forest beyond the creek

Clem Rogers trotted forward on his horse, picking his way with Cooper’s southern officers and the remnant of Drew’s command. They rode through a prairie sprinkled with big oaks and pecan trees and then into a dense thicket of willows and river birches. The wind seemed to pick up behind them and they heard the rattling cries and taunts of Indian war whoops. Arrows sizzled, falling and cutting dead leaves and branches. Horses screamed and men who were wounded and cursing fell from their saddles into the dead grass. Clem saw Drew’s horse with an arrow through its neck, and watched the old man trying desperately to control the animal as it spun in a circle. Another soldier directly in front of him tumbled end-over-end off his horse, as the wounded beast plunged head-long into a ravine. In the confusion, some of the Confederate riders rode right off the high slippery sand banks and came crashing down through the overgrowth into the Muddy Bird Creek and into the sights of the loyal Indians.

The corn husk wearing Indians opened fire with rifles and shotguns. Horses and men shrieked horribly as they were raked with lead. The Confederates piled into the icy blood-stained creek over their own dead and wounded and withered under the gunfire emanating only dozens of yards away. Watt Christie saw Broom Baldridge, a one-time Keetoowah turned Confederate, struggling with his horse and attempting to lift a wounded man onto it. Watt drew a bead on the center of the rebel traitor’s grey uniform jacket and squeezed the trigger. The mortally wounded Lieutenant Baldridge looked up at Watt, right at him, and seemed to recognize him for a moment. He then fell heavily into the cold muddy water. The Confederate charge stalled and the rebels withdrew into the woods to regroup.

In the distant woods, Cassius could hear the clatter of rifle fire and he looked questioningly at Watt. “Alligator and the Seminoles are hitting their rearguard,” Watt told him. “They’re after the horses and supply wagons.” Movement on the sandy banks beneath them caught Watt’s attention. “Those are our people down there,” he warned. Despite the danger, several ex-field hands had rushed to the water’s edge. Half-naked and barefoot they rummaged for the dead men’s uniforms and boots. Cassius, Watt and the other Pins covered them, staring through rifle sights at the opposite bank. Cassius glanced down at the dead Confederates as several of their stripped, bleeding bodies began to drift slowly down the Muddy Bird Creek.

His horse riddled with lead and his skull bleeding, Clem Rogers stumbled on foot back through the bush with a Colt revolver in his hand. He came across Colonel Drew, sitting as if dazed by his horse as the downed animal kicked weakly on the ground, blood pumping from the arrow wound in its neck. Ignoring Drew, Clem walked over and pulled the arrow from the animal and examined it. “A metal-pointed Creek arrow,” Clem said, turning it over in his hand.

“What?” croaked Drew.

Clem glanced at the old wretch and cocked his revolver. He scanned the brush in every direction. They were alone. One shot would put an end to the man’s misery. But no, he heard a branch snapping behind him. Clem turned his revolver and shot the wounded horse through the brain. “Captain Rogers!” A voice rang out and Clem turned and saw Cooper, who stumbled forward holding an injured arm.

“Yes sir?”

“Captain, can you find a goddamn place to get at em along this creek?”

“I think so sir, yes.”

“How many men do you need?”

Rogers looked around him at the Texans and Cherokee officers who were gathering around Cooper. “Sir if it’s all the same to you I’ll take about twenty of them McIntosh Creeks and your Texans backing us up.”

“Make it happen, Captain Rogers.”

The north wind out of Kansas was bitter cold all that day, bringing freezing rain and sharp stinging sleet. Cassius looked down at his feet. They were cold and wet, but at least he had shoes. He pulled his old blanket up around his head and settled stiffly into the brown leaves. He watched Watt fiddling with a recently acquired Colt pistol. Bowlegs summoned them all back to the fortified farm house and corn cribs that occupied the center of the horseshoe bend. There they found Bowlegs bellowing orders in a mixture of languages. “The Texans have crossed the creek!” he shouted. “Our Chief is leading the people away.” Bowlegs raised his rifle above his head. “We fight them one more time. Here! We fight them very hard. Then we follow the people north!” Someone tossed Bowlegs a Creek spear. He raised it high, then thrust it point first into the sandy ground. Men shouted their assent.

Two hours later the Pins, allied Indians, and free negroes found themselves in a vicious crossfire. In bloody, close-quarter bush combat, the Texans had seized the high ground to the east of the farm and the McIntosh Creeks were holding a dense thicket to their north. Volley after volley was exchanged. The soft round balls splattered through the bush causing nasty flesh wounds by the dozens.

Cassius squatted near Watt behind a corn crib surrounded by black powder stained Pin Indians. Alligator rushed up behind them and placed his hand on Watt’s shoulder. “Not much light lef in de day,” he said hoarsely. “Dere’s a path cut through de brush. We gonna start pullin out. Ten men by ten men. When yo brothers run out – blast de Texans!” Watt nodded and spread the word and Alligator went on down the line giving instructions. Shots continued ringing out and bullets fell among them with increasing precision.

A dozen or more Texans rushed out of the underbrush, crouching low and carrying carbines. Watt and a score of Pins leaned up on one knee and fired a volley, causing some Texans to fall with bullets crashing through them and others to collapse behind trees. While Cassius made ready his shotgun, he saw one of the Pins, Billy Sunday, jerk and drop his gun. Watt held his rifle in one hand and fired a revolver rapidly at the Texans while Cassius grabbed Sunday’s foot and dragged the bleeding man behind the corn crib.

Crouching behind a tree in an elevated position, Clem Rogers watched the fight swirling around the farm house through the haze of black powder smoke. The woods around him were filling with wounded men. A young Texan lieutenant approached Clem and told him Colonel Cooper was holding an impromptu officer’s meeting further back in the woods. Clem followed the lieutenant and found the colonel and a few officers speaking in exhausted tones. They were a bedraggled but determined bunch, and every one had at least one bleeding wound.

Cooper spoke to Clem Rogers. “Do you think we can subdue these Yankee traitors?”

“Sir,” Rogers replied, “the enemy has a thousand or more warriors here in this bend and they appear to be holding their own whilst making an orderly retreat.” Cooper nodded grimly and Clem continued, “If we pursue them into this gathering dusk, we shall end the day by shooting our own men in the darkness.”

“Sir,” a Texas Captain addressed Cooper, “I’ve counted over fifty of our men killed, two hundred wounded and about a hundred downed horses.”

Cooper nodded again and said, “Goddamn those Indians.” Cooper glanced about at his worn and torn men. “We’ve given them as good as we’ve gotten. I’m confident of that.” The officers nodded and assured their colonel that was in fact the case. ”Gentlemen,” he said, “Git the boys that ain’t hurt too bad to start makin stretchers. Bring up the wagons. Let’s git these hurt men out of here.”

“Yes sir.”

“Shall we continue the pursuit sir?” The Texas captain wondered aloud.

“No, let them escape. We have taught them a lesson.”

Clem observed with few comments as the Texas Cavalry set about removing itself from the horseshoe bend. He carried his saddle and bedroll back to the morning’s camp. Sleet and hard specks of snow were falling about the weary men as they trudged back to the campfires. The Texans’ dreams of plunder – of cattle, slaves and glory – is vanishing into the sleet, smoke and darkness, Clem thought. But this land and its wealth is not their birthright, he considered, it is mine.

The next morning Clem awoke early amidst the groans of hundreds of wounded men and saddled a horse he took from the ad-hoc remuda. He rode east throughout the day, finally arriving at Colonel Watie’s camp in the early December darkness. Quickly he told the old man about the battle and how the Pins had defected and how Opotheyahola was still moving north to Kansas.

Stand Watie shook his head and laughed. “Let the black Republicans feed them then,” he said. “It is but one less concern.” Watie handed Clem a bottle and Clem drank and handed it back.

Captain William Penn Adair appeared out of the darkness, wrapped in a greatcoat and with a pained and ominous expression on his face. “Clem…cousin,” he said. “There’s been some very bad news.” He handed Clem a folded piece of paper. “It is from your wife.” Clem opened the letter and held a candle close as he read –

My Dearest Clement –

Our darling baby Elizabeth is no more. The journey from the farm to Mother’s house was too much for her to bear. She took a fever along the trail, and none among us could save her. She lies now in the cold ground, yet I live on, with a heart broken and empty arms that ache for my child. Father is sending me off to Texas in a week’s time, there to remain until this dreadful fighting is over. Until then, I live only to see your face again. May God keep you safe. Your loving wife – Mary America Rogers

1861 – At Opotheyahola’s Camp

Cassius rode the red mule at an easy pace through open woods and meadows toward the Creek Nation. He passed many groups of refugee Indians, women and children in wagons, who pointed out the way to the Creek chief’s house. When stopped by Cherokee home guards and questioned, he stated in Cherokee that he was delivering an urgent message for his master, Principal Chief John Ross. He showed them a folded document from his shirt, one of the chief’s old letters taken from the big desk at Rose Cottage, and presented it to the man who looked at it briefly and handed it back. The man, like many Cherokees, could read, but not English.

As he neared the sprawling camp at Opotheyahola’s house, Cassius saw smoke rising from a hundred fires. He was met by Creek warriors, faces painted, bare-chested despite the cold, wearing cotton turbans, and armed to the teeth. Cattle, sheep and ponies wandered loose.

“Who you be, boy?” asked one of the Creeks.

“Dey calls me Cassius.”

“Where you from?”

“I left off de Ross place in de Cherokee Nation.”

“John Ross know you’re gone?”

“I reckon he know it now.” Cassius laughed and the Creek laughed, too.

“Go on over there and talk to Bowlegs,” the warrior said, pointing out a figure leaning over a fire in the distance.

“Who dat?” Cassius asked.

“Heap big warrior for Opotheyahola.”

Cassius made his way to the designated spot where he found a group of Creeks and Seminoles huddled around the fire. Away from the crowd, several people waited to speak to Bowlegs, who Cassius learned was a Seminole chief. Among them stood a tall black Seminole. Cassius recognized Blackberry, a fellow survivor of the slave revolt. Blackberry had been out hunting when the slaves were captured in the Canadian cane breaks so long ago. Cassius watched while Blackberry talked to the two Indians, then stepped out of line and approached him.

Blackberry looked him up and down and tears welled up in his dark eyes. He made some quick hand signs to the Creeks and moved toward Cassius. “High John,” he said, and they embraced each other, both weeping.

“You here jes in time, my brother. Wese movin north. De grass here is gone, de forces of evil is comin, and we is Kansas bound.”

“Reckon I be goin wit you and watchin yer ol sorry back,” Cassius said, wiping his eyes.

“Firs, les git you fed and git you some weapons. Wese roastin up a beef over at dat big fire. And de guns are over dere at dat wagon.”

An exodus of four thousand Creeks, Seminoles and negroes had already begun to drift north and was crossing into the Cherokee lands. The people traveled in carriages, wagons, two-wheeled carts, riding horses and mules. Many were on foot. Thousands of cattle, sheep and horses were herded into columns. The families went first, then the animals, flanked on all sides by armed warriors.

Albert Pike, who had been commissioned as General of all the Confederate forces in Indian Territory, was immediately alerted that Opotheyahola’s loyal Creeks and a huge armed rabble of Seminoles and runaway slaves were heading north, apparently to rendezvous with Union forces in Kansas. The retreating Creeks were being pursued at a distance by Texas cavalry. Pike ordered Colonel Drew’s regiment of Cherokees to intercept Opotheyahola’s forces and refugees.

Drew’s Mounted Rifles, in pursuit from the east, were mostly all Pin Indians who had been drafted unwillingly into the Confederate ranks when Ross had signed on with the south. The southern leaders thought they could control them and force their loyalty, but Stand Watie had warned Drew not to trust them, to use caution with them. Watie’s men, on the other hand, were die-hard rebels who whistled Dixie while they rode. They were a fierce crew of nigra-hating white Cherokees and many of them owned slaves. Watie stole what he needed to keep them well-armed and well-fed, and he slapped them down if they got too drunk. Drew’s men, in contrast, were solemn, morose, lackluster, and much more dangerous than they looked. They eyed their officers with a primordial hatred that the officers could feel and that had led them to make stupid, careless decisions more than once.

From the south came the Third Texas Cavalry, led by Colonel Douglas Cooper. The Texans were a dangerous, battle-hardened army a generation younger than Sam Houston’s valiant men. Some were Rangers, accustomed to fighting the wild tribes of Comanche and many had seen action in the 1845 American invasion of Mexico.

Opotheyahola was like a Creek Moses parting the Red Sea of the Cherokee Nation’s Coo-wee-scoo-wee District. In his seventh decade of life, he was a strong man. He let Bowlegs command the warriors, while he appeared here, there, and everywhere guiding, urging, and assisting the entire assemblage forward. At a place on Bird Creek called Caving Banks, Opotheyahola called a halt. He stopped the throng of refugees and regrouped his warriors. His scouts had warned him of the approach of the Texans and Drew’s Cherokees. He called his men around him.

“I know this place. With the Caving Banks around us, we are in a very defensible position,” Opotheyahola said, explaining how the steep broken terrain and soft sand made a cavalry assault from the south a risky proposition. “But the white Texans are relentless,” he said. “They will cover the ground. Bowlegs, take your men and be ready to slaughter them. Take your boys. Fill the sky with your black-feathered arrows. I want my Creeks on the east, the Seminole braves on the south, and the freed slaves will hold the center. Make the sky dark with lead.”

The Pin Indian, Watt Christie, was among the shivering and still-damp men who had just crossed the Verdigris River with Colonel Drew’s Mounted Rifles, and who now pulled blankets around their shoulders. They had been warned to keep their campfires low because Opotheyahola and the Loyal Creeks were camped but a few miles away through the rugged woodland. They inched close to the fire, their cheeks burning while toes and fingers stung from the chill as the temperature began to drop. Watt looked around him at the sullen, miserable faces of his companions.

“This is not right,” he told them. “We have now been forced on the warpath against our own people – people who believe as we do.”

Just then Colonel Drew and some officers walked up on them. “I need some scouts to get the lay of the land around the enemy’s camp,” Drew said. Several of the Indians stood up and so did Watt. He was not sleepy and he wished to move about. Mostly, he wanted to find out for himself what was going on. Drew chose Watt and two other men, Tadpole and Billy Sunday, to do the job. All three were Keetoowahs, and Tadpole was married to a Creek woman who had many relatives in Opotheyahola’s camp.

Sunlight drained rapidly from the winter sky as the three walked into the forest toward the Caving Banks. In the last rays of the afternoon, Watt and the others encountered Creek sentries, a pair of warriors with long rifles. Watt glanced at Tadpole and Sunday and then stepped out to reveal himself. He touched his hat in salute and held the lapel of his coat, drawing it away from his body and giving a motion as if he was wrapping it around his heart.

“Who are you?” a Creek warrior shouted.

“Tahlequah,” Watt answered. “And who are you?”

The Creek smiled. “I am Keetoowah’s son.”

Minutes later, the men stood in Opotheyahola’s camp, surrounded by Creeks, Seminoles and Cherokees. They passed a pipe and conversed in several languages.

“There’s nothing stopping you,” Bowlegs told them. “You should come over.”

Watt nodded his agreement.

“Tell your friends to tie corn husks in their hair so we can recognize them. We will all go to Kansas together.”

“When should we do this?” asked Watt.

“Dawn,” Bowlegs said. “Tell the others there are two thousand well-armed warriors here, ready to fight, willing to send them to the Darkening Land. But we will welcome them into our ranks. Tell them to bring all the lead and rations they can gather, and meet us here at dawn.”

Watt, Sunday and Tadpole returned to camp and told Drew the story he was wishing to hear. They described a huge enemy force, knowing that the fearful Drew would not attack. Then the word was spread quietly among the other Pin Indians and plans were laid to leave Drew’s camp before dawn.

A cheer rose among the Creeks and their allied forces as the pin-wearing Cherokees with cornhusks in their hair streamed around the abandoned farm, now being used as a headquarters for Bowlegs. Bowlegs moved among the Cherokees wearing a long shirt and plumed hat and he welcomed them heartily. “Brothers,” he told them, “we are undefeatable now!” The Cherokees tied their horses to trees and began dividing themselves into small groups of warriors, according to clan affiliation and blood ties.

Cassius mingled with the Cherokees and, speaking their tongue, he introduced himself to Watt Christie. “I jes run offa Johnny Ross’s place a few day ago,” he said and Watt laughed.

“How did you leave that reprobate?” Watt asked.

“Da girls in de house say he packin fo a long trip.”

“I would bet that he is.”

“I seen him wit my own eyes a-shakin hans wit Stan Watie.”

Watt shook his head bitterly. “Stay with us,” he said, “There’s a fight coming and it’s going to be thick.”

The next morning broke clear and bitter cold in John Drew’s camp. Well after sunup, the colonel still slept, wrapped up in blankets inside his canvas tent. The morning light and the strange silence brought him out of a deep sleep. He opened the tent flaps, stepped out and surveyed the camp. All was quiet. A few of his officers sat beside a fire. One of the captains brought over a cup of steaming coffee, handed it to him and saluted.

“They’re all gone,” the captain said. “They left while we slept, took munitions, food. The damned Republican Pins are gone!”

“Why wasn’t I wakened?” barked Drew.

“For what, sir? Out of six hundred men we have a few dozen officers left. If you had come shouting orders they’d have killed us every one, sir.”

Drew sipped his coffee while the gravity of his position made him shiver. Through the dull ringing in his ears, he realized the captain was speaking. He strained to hear.

“Your orders, sir?”

“What? Oh. Muster the men. Find me some food. Breakfast.” Drew’s hands and voice shook.

One of his officers who had tracked the deserters rode up quickly. “There’s a large force headed this way, sir!” he cried from horseback.

“Huhhh? Get your gear, men. We must depart this damnable spot and join up with Cooper’s Texans.” Suddenly Drew panicked. He saw himself as from a distance, a short, tawdry footnote to history. His command had deserted him. His career was over. He wished himself home again with his wife. His stomach growled while his ears rang. Breakfast, he thought. What a day.

Drew and his remaining officers mounted quickly and headed south, but after a few minutes one of them piped up, “We forgot about the powder, sir!”

“What? Oh, the powder,” Drew moaned. “We must retrieve the powder.”

They rushed back to the empty camp. There they found Major Pegg. He was still drunk from the night before and had been totally forgotten in the scramble to leave. Pegg was urinating on the trunk of a large oak tree, oblivious to all that had occurred.

“Pegg!” Drew shouted at the man.

“What in the world?” Pegg noticed for the first time the condition of the camp.

“We must flee, Pegg,” said Drew. “The enemy is upon us with four thousand men.”

Again his thoughts turned to breakfast.

Drew and his few loyal officers fled on to Cooper’s Texan camp without decorum. He reported to Cooper, “My men, my whole command, have gone over to the Union side. Those damnable nigra-loving Republican Lincolnites! God damn them all! Oh, Cooper, I am sick…and I must hasten to report, sir, that we are being pursued by a large Creek force – four thousand, I’d guess.”

Cooper frowned at Drew as he spoke softly, “You’ve been guessing wrong so far, Drew…Colonel Watie clearly predicted this very event, that your men would desert you. Go and sit yourself down and eat some breakfast. What a goddamn mess of Yankees and liars and traitors and fools. Shit fire!”

Cooper and his officers quickly ascertained there was no attacking force bearing down on them. John Drew finally sat down with his men to a belated breakfast of taters, biscuits, beans and beef. The Texans stood back and hee-hawed the dining Cherokees for their lack of valor. They grinned, laughed and elbowed each other till they cried. Cooper threw up a line of sentries and a watch was maintained throughout the morning, but the Loyal Creeks and their allies never appeared.

Young Captain Clement Rogers had been detached from Stand Watie’s force to act as a scout for Cooper’s Texas Cavalry. He stood there, that cold windy morning, watching the old man Drew and his few remaining men, all officers, huddled by the fire at Cooper’s camp. “Wretched fools,” he muttered to himself. “Do these blithering idiots even realize how deeply they have disgraced our Confederate Cherokee Nation? They have no order, no discipline. Now they have enriched chief Opotheyahola’s forces to the tune of many hundreds of warriors, horses and guns.” Clement Rogers looked at the deaf old Drew, white hair growing out of his ears and nose. “Damned disgusting choice old Ross picked as leader. I should shoot him in the head right now and save us more trouble.” He spat his tobacco on the icy ground.

Cooper’s Rebs rested in bivouac until just after noon. Then they were summoned by Cooper and his officers to receive orders and go over the battle plans. The Texans were saddled up and ready for a fight. Before they mounted, Cooper addressed them as though they were his own sons. “Boys, our enemy is composed of renegade niggers, cut throat Pins, and zambo trash. Beware…these black Lincolnites will have no compunction about killing you on sight. Cover your brother’s backs and fight like true sons of Texas! Let’s go finish this business and send those traitors to hell.” They mounted in the cold wind and headed into the dense thicket with solemn determination.

1861 – The Battle at the Caving Banks on Muddy Bird Creek

Billy Bowlegs and his Seminole warriors, their brown faces painted red and black, wore cornhusks braided in their thick hair so they would recognize each other even in the dark. They moved quietly south and established a firm position to protect Opotheyahola’s column from the Texas Rebel Calvary’s line of advance. In the center of the horseshoe bend on Muddy Bird Creek, they shored up the abandoned farmhouse and placed logs around on the ground for rifle positions. Bowlegs told his men, “If we don’t stop these Texan crackers here, we sho nuff gonna slow their white asses down a day or two. Shoot their horses – these Texans be walkin home, if they lives. Stay under cover and shoot careful, these tree branches will turn a bullet.”

Cassius looked up at Watt Christie. He wore the braided cornhusk in his long black hair and he seemed to be smelling the air. “They’s comin boys,” he said quietly. The men hunkered down in a brushy spot along the creek, high atop the tree-lined sand banks. The sand was crumbly and unstable and the color and texture of brown sugar.

A mighty fine spot for a swim on a hot August afternoon, Cassius thought, but this was December and a wet cold north wind blew down from Kansas where freedom waited. Across the creek a covey of quail went up with a rush of wings and then several deer bounded down the steep bank through the muddy creek and up toward them. Cassius felt fear grip his insides as he spied the grey-clad figures moving among the trees on the far shore.

“Hold back yer fire,” Watt whispered. An Indian word was hissed and hundreds of turkey calls were being made all around them. Cassius saw some of the Cherokee and Creek men stand up and slap their sides, barking and howling like wolves. Cassius flinched as he heard hundreds of bowstrings popping behind him. The sky darkened as the Creek boys began launching arrows to arc over their position and into the forest beyond the creek

Clem Rogers trotted forward on his horse, picking his way with Cooper’s southern officers and the remnant of Drew’s command. They rode through a prairie sprinkled with big oaks and pecan trees and then into a dense thicket of willows and river birches. The wind seemed to pick up behind them and they heard the rattling cries and taunts of Indian war whoops. Arrows sizzled, falling and cutting dead leaves and branches. Horses screamed and men who were wounded and cursing fell from their saddles into the dead grass. Clem saw Drew’s horse with an arrow through its neck, and watched the old man trying desperately to control the animal as it spun in a circle. Another soldier directly in front of him tumbled end-over-end off his horse, as the wounded beast plunged head-long into a ravine. In the confusion, some of the Confederate riders rode right off the high slippery sand banks and came crashing down through the overgrowth into the Muddy Bird Creek and into the sights of the loyal Indians.

The corn husk wearing Indians opened fire with rifles and shotguns. Horses and men shrieked horribly as they were raked with lead. The Confederates piled into the icy blood-stained creek over their own dead and wounded and withered under the gunfire emanating only dozens of yards away. Watt Christie saw Broom Baldridge, a one-time Keetoowah turned Confederate, struggling with his horse and attempting to lift a wounded man onto it. Watt drew a bead on the center of the rebel traitor’s grey uniform jacket and squeezed the trigger. The mortally wounded Lieutenant Baldridge looked up at Watt, right at him, and seemed to recognize him for a moment. He then fell heavily into the cold muddy water. The Confederate charge stalled and the rebels withdrew into the woods to regroup.

In the distant woods, Cassius could hear the clatter of rifle fire and he looked questioningly at Watt. “Alligator and the Seminoles are hitting their rearguard,” Watt told him. “They’re after the horses and supply wagons.” Movement on the sandy banks beneath them caught Watt’s attention. “Those are our people down there,” he warned. Despite the danger, several ex-field hands had rushed to the water’s edge. Half-naked and barefoot they rummaged for the dead men’s uniforms and boots. Cassius, Watt and the other Pins covered them, staring through rifle sights at the opposite bank. Cassius glanced down at the dead Confederates as several of their stripped, bleeding bodies began to drift slowly down the Muddy Bird Creek.

His horse riddled with lead and his skull bleeding, Clem Rogers stumbled on foot back through the bush with a Colt revolver in his hand. He came across Colonel Drew, sitting as if dazed by his horse as the downed animal kicked weakly on the ground, blood pumping from the arrow wound in its neck. Ignoring Drew, Clem walked over and pulled the arrow from the animal and examined it. “A metal-pointed Creek arrow,” Clem said, turning it over in his hand.

“What?” croaked Drew.

Clem glanced at the old wretch and cocked his revolver. He scanned the brush in every direction. They were alone. One shot would put an end to the man’s misery. But no, he heard a branch snapping behind him. Clem turned his revolver and shot the wounded horse through the brain. “Captain Rogers!” A voice rang out and Clem turned and saw Cooper, who stumbled forward holding an injured arm.

“Yes sir?”

“Captain, can you find a goddamn place to get at em along this creek?”

“I think so sir, yes.”

“How many men do you need?”

Rogers looked around him at the Texans and Cherokee officers who were gathering around Cooper. “Sir if it’s all the same to you I’ll take about twenty of them McIntosh Creeks and your Texans backing us up.”

“Make it happen, Captain Rogers.”

The north wind out of Kansas was bitter cold all that day, bringing freezing rain and sharp stinging sleet. Cassius looked down at his feet. They were cold and wet, but at least he had shoes. He pulled his old blanket up around his head and settled stiffly into the brown leaves. He watched Watt fiddling with a recently acquired Colt pistol. Bowlegs summoned them all back to the fortified farm house and corn cribs that occupied the center of the horseshoe bend. There they found Bowlegs bellowing orders in a mixture of languages. “The Texans have crossed the creek!” he shouted. “Our Chief is leading the people away.” Bowlegs raised his rifle above his head. “We fight them one more time. Here! We fight them very hard. Then we follow the people north!” Someone tossed Bowlegs a Creek spear. He raised it high, then thrust it point first into the sandy ground. Men shouted their assent.

Two hours later the Pins, allied Indians, and free negroes found themselves in a vicious crossfire. In bloody, close-quarter bush combat, the Texans had seized the high ground to the east of the farm and the McIntosh Creeks were holding a dense thicket to their north. Volley after volley was exchanged. The soft round balls splattered through the bush causing nasty flesh wounds by the dozens.

Cassius squatted near Watt behind a corn crib surrounded by black powder stained Pin Indians. Alligator rushed up behind them and placed his hand on Watt’s shoulder. “Not much light lef in de day,” he said hoarsely. “Dere’s a path cut through de brush. We gonna start pullin out. Ten men by ten men. When yo brothers run out – blast de Texans!” Watt nodded and spread the word and Alligator went on down the line giving instructions. Shots continued ringing out and bullets fell among them with increasing precision.

A dozen or more Texans rushed out of the underbrush, crouching low and carrying carbines. Watt and a score of Pins leaned up on one knee and fired a volley, causing some Texans to fall with bullets crashing through them and others to collapse behind trees. While Cassius made ready his shotgun, he saw one of the Pins, Billy Sunday, jerk and drop his gun. Watt held his rifle in one hand and fired a revolver rapidly at the Texans while Cassius grabbed Sunday’s foot and dragged the bleeding man behind the corn crib.

Crouching behind a tree in an elevated position, Clem Rogers watched the fight swirling around the farm house through the haze of black powder smoke. The woods around him were filling with wounded men. A young Texan lieutenant approached Clem and told him Colonel Cooper was holding an impromptu officer’s meeting further back in the woods. Clem followed the lieutenant and found the colonel and a few officers speaking in exhausted tones. They were a bedraggled but determined bunch, and every one had at least one bleeding wound.

Cooper spoke to Clem Rogers. “Do you think we can subdue these Yankee traitors?”

“Sir,” Rogers replied, “the enemy has a thousand or more warriors here in this bend and they appear to be holding their own whilst making an orderly retreat.” Cooper nodded grimly and Clem continued, “If we pursue them into this gathering dusk, we shall end the day by shooting our own men in the darkness.”

“Sir,” a Texas Captain addressed Cooper, “I’ve counted over fifty of our men killed, two hundred wounded and about a hundred downed horses.”

Cooper nodded again and said, “Goddamn those Indians.” Cooper glanced about at his worn and torn men. “We’ve given them as good as we’ve gotten. I’m confident of that.” The officers nodded and assured their colonel that was in fact the case. ”Gentlemen,” he said, “Git the boys that ain’t hurt too bad to start makin stretchers. Bring up the wagons. Let’s git these hurt men out of here.”

“Yes sir.”

“Shall we continue the pursuit sir?” The Texas captain wondered aloud.

“No, let them escape. We have taught them a lesson.”

Clem observed with few comments as the Texas Cavalry set about removing itself from the horseshoe bend. He carried his saddle and bedroll back to the morning’s camp. Sleet and hard specks of snow were falling about the weary men as they trudged back to the campfires. The Texans’ dreams of plunder – of cattle, slaves and glory – is vanishing into the sleet, smoke and darkness, Clem thought. But this land and its wealth is not their birthright, he considered, it is mine.

The next morning Clem awoke early amidst the groans of hundreds of wounded men and saddled a horse he took from the ad-hoc remuda. He rode east throughout the day, finally arriving at Colonel Watie’s camp in the early December darkness. Quickly he told the old man about the battle and how the Pins had defected and how Opotheyahola was still moving north to Kansas.

Stand Watie shook his head and laughed. “Let the black Republicans feed them then,” he said. “It is but one less concern.” Watie handed Clem a bottle and Clem drank and handed it back.

Captain William Penn Adair appeared out of the darkness, wrapped in a greatcoat and with a pained and ominous expression on his face. “Clem…cousin,” he said. “There’s been some very bad news.” He handed Clem a folded piece of paper. “It is from your wife.” Clem opened the letter and held a candle close as he read –

My Dearest Clement –

Our darling baby Elizabeth is no more. The journey from the farm to Mother’s house was too much for her to bear. She took a fever along the trail, and none among us could save her. She lies now in the cold ground, yet I live on, with a heart broken and empty arms that ache for my child. Father is sending me off to Texas in a week’s time, there to remain until this dreadful fighting is over. Until then, I live only to see your face again. May God keep you safe. Your loving wife – Mary America Rogers

1861 – At Opotheyahola’s Camp

Cassius rode the red mule at an easy pace through open woods and meadows toward the Creek Nation. He passed many groups of refugee Indians, women and children in wagons, who pointed out the way to the Creek chief’s house. When stopped by Cherokee home guards and questioned, he stated in Cherokee that he was delivering an urgent message for his master, Principal Chief John Ross. He showed them a folded document from his shirt, one of the chief’s old letters taken from the big desk at Rose Cottage, and presented it to the man who looked at it briefly and handed it back. The man, like many Cherokees, could read, but not English.
As he neared the sprawling camp at Opotheyahola’s house, Cassius saw smoke rising from a hundred fires. He was met by Creek warriors, faces painted, bare-chested despite the cold, wearing cotton turbans, and armed to the teeth. Cattle, sheep and ponies wandered loose.
“Who you be, boy?” asked one of the Creeks.
“Dey calls me Cassius.”
“Where you from?”
“I left off de Ross place in de Cherokee Nation.”
“John Ross know you’re gone?”
“I reckon he know it now.” Cassius laughed and the Creek laughed, too.
“Go on over there and talk to Bowlegs,” the warrior said, pointing out a figure leaning over a fire in the distance.
“Who dat?” Cassius asked.
“Heap big warrior for Opotheyahola.”
Cassius made his way to the designated spot where he found a group of Creeks and Seminoles huddled around the fire. Away from the crowd, several people waited to speak to Bowlegs, who Cassius learned was a Seminole chief. Among them stood a tall black Seminole. Cassius recognized Blackberry, a fellow survivor of the slave revolt. Blackberry had been out hunting when the slaves were captured in the Canadian cane breaks so long ago. Cassius watched while Blackberry talked to the two Indians, then stepped out of line and approached him.
Blackberry looked him up and down and tears welled up in his dark eyes. He made some quick hand signs to the Creeks and moved toward Cassius. “High John,” he said, and they embraced each other, both weeping.
“You here jes in time, my brother. Wese movin north. De grass here is gone, de forces of evil is comin, and we is Kansas bound.”
“Reckon I be goin wit you and watchin yer ol sorry back,” Cassius said, wiping his eyes.
“Firs, les git you fed and git you some weapons. Wese roastin up a beef over at dat big fire. And de guns are over dere at dat wagon.”

An exodus of four thousand Creeks, Seminoles and negroes had already begun to drift north and was crossing into the Cherokee lands. The people traveled in carriages, wagons, two-wheeled carts, riding horses and mules. Many were on foot. Thousands of cattle, sheep and horses were herded into columns. The families went first, then the animals, flanked on all sides by armed warriors.
Albert Pike, who had been commissioned as General of all the Confederate forces in Indian Territory, was immediately alerted that Opotheyahola’s loyal Creeks and a huge armed rabble of Seminoles and runaway slaves were heading north, apparently to rendezvous with Union forces in Kansas. The retreating Creeks were being pursued at a distance by Texas cavalry. Pike ordered Colonel Drew’s regiment of Cherokees to intercept Opotheyahola’s forces and refugees.
Drew’s Mounted Rifles, in pursuit from the east, were mostly all Pin Indians who had been drafted unwillingly into the Confederate ranks when Ross had signed on with the south. The southern leaders thought they could control them and force their loyalty, but Stand Watie had warned Drew not to trust them, to use caution with them. Watie’s men, on the other hand, were die-hard rebels who whistled Dixie while they rode. They were a fierce crew of nigra-hating white Cherokees and many of them owned slaves. Watie stole what he needed to keep them well-armed and well-fed, and he slapped them down if they got too drunk. Drew’s men, in contrast, were solemn, morose, lackluster, and much more dangerous than they looked. They eyed their officers with a primordial hatred that the officers could feel and that had led them to make stupid, careless decisions more than once.
From the south came the Third Texas Cavalry, led by Colonel Douglas Cooper. The Texans were a dangerous, battle-hardened army a generation younger than Sam Houston’s valiant men. Some were Rangers, accustomed to fighting the wild tribes of Comanche and many had seen action in the 1845 American invasion of Mexico.

Opotheyahola was like a Creek Moses parting the Red Sea of the Cherokee Nation’s Coo-wee-scoo-wee District. In his seventh decade of life, he was a strong man. He let Bowlegs command the warriors, while he appeared here, there, and everywhere guiding, urging, and assisting the entire assemblage forward. At a place on Bird Creek called Caving Banks, Opotheyahola called a halt. He stopped the throng of refugees and regrouped his warriors. His scouts had warned him of the approach of the Texans and Drew’s Cherokees. He called his men around him.
“I know this place. With the Caving Banks around us, we are in a very defensible position,” Opotheyahola said, explaining how the steep broken terrain and soft sand made a cavalry assault from the south a risky proposition. “But the white Texans are relentless,” he said. “They will cover the ground. Bowlegs, take your men and be ready to slaughter them. Take your boys. Fill the sky with your black-feathered arrows. I want my Creeks on the east, the Seminole braves on the south, and the freed slaves will hold the center. Make the sky dark with lead.”

The Pin Indian, Watt Christie, was among the shivering and still-damp men who had just crossed the Verdigris River with Colonel Drew’s Mounted Rifles, and who now pulled blankets around their shoulders. They had been warned to keep their campfires low because Opotheyahola and the Loyal Creeks were camped but a few miles away through the rugged woodland. They inched close to the fire, their cheeks burning while toes and fingers stung from the chill as the temperature began to drop. Watt looked around him at the sullen, miserable faces of his companions.
“This is not right,” he told them. “We have now been forced on the warpath against our own people – people who believe as we do.”
Just then Colonel Drew and some officers walked up on them. “I need some scouts to get the lay of the land around the enemy’s camp,” Drew said. Several of the Indians stood up and so did Watt. He was not sleepy and he wished to move about. Mostly, he wanted to find out for himself what was going on. Drew chose Watt and two other men, Tadpole and Billy Sunday, to do the job. All three were Keetoowahs, and Tadpole was married to a Creek woman who had many relatives in Opotheyahola’s camp.
Sunlight drained rapidly from the winter sky as the three walked into the forest toward the Caving Banks. In the last rays of the afternoon, Watt and the others encountered Creek sentries, a pair of warriors with long rifles. Watt glanced at Tadpole and Sunday and then stepped out to reveal himself. He touched his hat in salute and held the lapel of his coat, drawing it away from his body and giving a motion as if he was wrapping it around his heart.
“Who are you?” a Creek warrior shouted.
“Tahlequah,” Watt answered. “And who are you?”
The Creek smiled. “I am Keetoowah’s son.”
Minutes later, the men stood in Opotheyahola’s camp, surrounded by Creeks, Seminoles and Cherokees. They passed a pipe and conversed in several languages.
“There’s nothing stopping you,” Bowlegs told them. “You should come over.”
Watt nodded his agreement.
“Tell your friends to tie corn husks in their hair so we can recognize them. We will all go to Kansas together.”
“When should we do this?” asked Watt.
“Dawn,” Bowlegs said. “Tell the others there are two thousand well-armed warriors here, ready to fight, willing to send them to the Darkening Land. But we will welcome them into our ranks. Tell them to bring all the lead and rations they can gather, and meet us here at dawn.”

Watt, Sunday and Tadpole returned to camp and told Drew the story he was wishing to hear. They described a huge enemy force, knowing that the fearful Drew would not attack. Then the word was spread quietly among the other Pin Indians and plans were laid to leave Drew’s camp before dawn.

A cheer rose among the Creeks and their allied forces as the pin-wearing Cherokees with cornhusks in their hair streamed around the abandoned farm, now being used as a headquarters for Bowlegs. Bowlegs moved among the Cherokees wearing a long shirt and plumed hat and he welcomed them heartily. “Brothers,” he told them, “we are undefeatable now!” The Cherokees tied their horses to trees and began dividing themselves into small groups of warriors, according to clan affiliation and blood ties.
Cassius mingled with the Cherokees and, speaking their tongue, he introduced himself to Watt Christie. “I jes run offa Johnny Ross’s place a few day ago,” he said and Watt laughed.
“How did you leave that reprobate?” Watt asked.
“Da girls in de house say he packin fo a long trip.”
“I would bet that he is.”
“I seen him wit my own eyes a-shakin hans wit Stan Watie.”
Watt shook his head bitterly. “Stay with us,” he said, “There’s a fight coming and it’s going to be thick.”

The next morning broke clear and bitter cold in John Drew’s camp. Well after sunup, the colonel still slept, wrapped up in blankets inside his canvas tent. The morning light and the strange silence brought him out of a deep sleep. He opened the tent flaps, stepped out and surveyed the camp. All was quiet. A few of his officers sat beside a fire. One of the captains brought over a cup of steaming coffee, handed it to him and saluted.
“They’re all gone,” the captain said. “They left while we slept, took munitions, food. The damned Republican Pins are gone!”
“Why wasn’t I wakened?” barked Drew.
“For what, sir? Out of six hundred men we have a few dozen officers left. If you had come shouting orders they’d have killed us every one, sir.”
Drew sipped his coffee while the gravity of his position made him shiver. Through the dull ringing in his ears, he realized the captain was speaking. He strained to hear.
“Your orders, sir?”
“What? Oh. Muster the men. Find me some food. Breakfast.” Drew’s hands and voice shook.
One of his officers who had tracked the deserters rode up quickly. “There’s a large force headed this way, sir!” he cried from horseback.
“Huhhh? Get your gear, men. We must depart this damnable spot and join up with Cooper’s Texans.” Suddenly Drew panicked. He saw himself as from a distance, a short, tawdry footnote to history. His command had deserted him. His career was over. He wished himself home again with his wife. His stomach growled while his ears rang. Breakfast, he thought. What a day.
Drew and his remaining officers mounted quickly and headed south, but after a few minutes one of them piped up, “We forgot about the powder, sir!”
“What? Oh, the powder,” Drew moaned. “We must retrieve the powder.”
They rushed back to the empty camp. There they found Major Pegg. He was still drunk from the night before and had been totally forgotten in the scramble to leave. Pegg was urinating on the trunk of a large oak tree, oblivious to all that had occurred.
“Pegg!” Drew shouted at the man.
“What in the world?” Pegg noticed for the first time the condition of the camp.
“We must flee, Pegg,” said Drew. “The enemy is upon us with four thousand men.”
Again his thoughts turned to breakfast.

Drew and his few loyal officers fled on to Cooper’s Texan camp without decorum. He reported to Cooper, “My men, my whole command, have gone over to the Union side. Those damnable nigra-loving Republican Lincolnites! God damn them all! Oh, Cooper, I am sick…and I must hasten to report, sir, that we are being pursued by a large Creek force – four thousand, I’d guess.”
Cooper frowned at Drew as he spoke softly, “You’ve been guessing wrong so far, Drew…Colonel Watie clearly predicted this very event, that your men would desert you. Go and sit yourself down and eat some breakfast. What a goddamn mess of Yankees and liars and traitors and fools. Shit fire!”
Cooper and his officers quickly ascertained there was no attacking force bearing down on them. John Drew finally sat down with his men to a belated breakfast of taters, biscuits, beans and beef. The Texans stood back and hee-hawed the dining Cherokees for their lack of valor. They grinned, laughed and elbowed each other till they cried. Cooper threw up a line of sentries and a watch was maintained throughout the morning, but the Loyal Creeks and their allies never appeared.

Young Captain Clement Rogers had been detached from Stand Watie’s force to act as a scout for Cooper’s Texas Cavalry. He stood there, that cold windy morning, watching the old man Drew and his few remaining men, all officers, huddled by the fire at Cooper’s camp. “Wretched fools,” he muttered to himself. “Do these blithering idiots even realize how deeply they have disgraced our Confederate Cherokee Nation? They have no order, no discipline. Now they have enriched chief Opotheyahola’s forces to the tune of many hundreds of warriors, horses and guns.” Clement Rogers looked at the deaf old Drew, white hair growing out of his ears and nose. “Damned disgusting choice old Ross picked as leader. I should shoot him in the head right now and save us more trouble.” He spat his tobacco on the icy ground.
Cooper’s Rebs rested in bivouac until just after noon. Then they were summoned by Cooper and his officers to receive orders and go over the battle plans. The Texans were saddled up and ready for a fight. Before they mounted, Cooper addressed them as though they were his own sons. “Boys, our enemy is composed of renegade niggers, cut throat Pins, and zambo trash. Beware…these black Lincolnites will have no compunction about killing you on sight. Cover your brother’s backs and fight like true sons of Texas! Let’s go finish this business and send those traitors to hell.” They mounted in the cold wind and headed into the dense thicket with solemn determination.

1861 – The Battle at the Caving Banks on Muddy Bird Creek

Billy Bowlegs and his Seminole warriors, their brown faces painted red and black, wore cornhusks braided in their thick hair so they would recognize each other even in the dark. They moved quietly south and established a firm position to protect Opotheyahola’s column from the Texas Rebel Calvary’s line of advance. In the center of the horseshoe bend on Muddy Bird Creek, they shored up the abandoned farmhouse and placed logs around on the ground for rifle positions. Bowlegs told his men, “If we don’t stop these Texan crackers here, we sho nuff gonna slow their white asses down a day or two. Shoot their horses – these Texans be walkin home, if they lives. Stay under cover and shoot careful, these tree branches will turn a bullet.”
Cassius looked up at Watt Christie. He wore the braided cornhusk in his long black hair and he seemed to be smelling the air. “They’s comin boys,” he said quietly. The men hunkered down in a brushy spot along the creek, high atop the tree-lined sand banks. The sand was crumbly and unstable and the color and texture of brown sugar.
A mighty fine spot for a swim on a hot August afternoon, Cassius thought, but this was December and a wet cold north wind blew down from Kansas where freedom waited. Across the creek a covey of quail went up with a rush of wings and then several deer bounded down the steep bank through the muddy creek and up toward them. Cassius felt fear grip his insides as he spied the grey-clad figures moving among the trees on the far shore.
“Hold back yer fire,” Watt whispered. An Indian word was hissed and hundreds of turkey calls were being made all around them. Cassius saw some of the Cherokee and Creek men stand up and slap their sides, barking and howling like wolves. Cassius flinched as he heard hundreds of bowstrings popping behind him. The sky darkened as the Creek boys began launching arrows to arc over their position and into the forest beyond the creek

Clem Rogers trotted forward on his horse, picking his way with Cooper’s southern officers and the remnant of Drew’s command. They rode through a prairie sprinkled with big oaks and pecan trees and then into a dense thicket of willows and river birches. The wind seemed to pick up behind them and they heard the rattling cries and taunts of Indian war whoops. Arrows sizzled, falling and cutting dead leaves and branches. Horses screamed and men who were wounded and cursing fell from their saddles into the dead grass. Clem saw Drew’s horse with an arrow through its neck, and watched the old man trying desperately to control the animal as it spun in a circle. Another soldier directly in front of him tumbled end-over-end off his horse, as the wounded beast plunged head-long into a ravine. In the confusion, some of the Confederate riders rode right off the high slippery sand banks and came crashing down through the overgrowth into the Muddy Bird Creek and into the sights of the loyal Indians.
The corn husk wearing Indians opened fire with rifles and shotguns. Horses and men shrieked horribly as they were raked with lead. The Confederates piled into the icy blood-stained creek over their own dead and wounded and withered under the gunfire emanating only dozens of yards away. Watt Christie saw Broom Baldridge, a one-time Keetoowah turned Confederate, struggling with his horse and attempting to lift a wounded man onto it. Watt drew a bead on the center of the rebel traitor’s grey uniform jacket and squeezed the trigger. The mortally wounded Lieutenant Baldridge looked up at Watt, right at him, and seemed to recognize him for a moment. He then fell heavily into the cold muddy water. The Confederate charge stalled and the rebels withdrew into the woods to regroup.

In the distant woods, Cassius could hear the clatter of rifle fire and he looked questioningly at Watt. “Alligator and the Seminoles are hitting their rearguard,” Watt told him. “They’re after the horses and supply wagons.” Movement on the sandy banks beneath them caught Watt’s attention. “Those are our people down there,” he warned. Despite the danger, several ex-field hands had rushed to the water’s edge. Half-naked and barefoot they rummaged for the dead men’s uniforms and boots. Cassius, Watt and the other Pins covered them, staring through rifle sights at the opposite bank. Cassius glanced down at the dead Confederates as several of their stripped, bleeding bodies began to drift slowly down the Muddy Bird Creek.
His horse riddled with lead and his skull bleeding, Clem Rogers stumbled on foot back through the bush with a Colt revolver in his hand. He came across Colonel Drew, sitting as if dazed by his horse as the downed animal kicked weakly on the ground, blood pumping from the arrow wound in its neck. Ignoring Drew, Clem walked over and pulled the arrow from the animal and examined it. “A metal-pointed Creek arrow,” Clem said, turning it over in his hand.
“What?” croaked Drew.
Clem glanced at the old wretch and cocked his revolver. He scanned the brush in every direction. They were alone. One shot would put an end to the man’s misery. But no, he heard a branch snapping behind him. Clem turned his revolver and shot the wounded horse through the brain. “Captain Rogers!” A voice rang out and Clem turned and saw Cooper, who stumbled forward holding an injured arm.
“Yes sir?”
“Captain, can you find a goddamn place to get at em along this creek?”
“I think so sir, yes.”
“How many men do you need?”
Rogers looked around him at the Texans and Cherokee officers who were gathering around Cooper. “Sir if it’s all the same to you I’ll take about twenty of them McIntosh Creeks and your Texans backing us up.”
“Make it happen, Captain Rogers.”

The north wind out of Kansas was bitter cold all that day, bringing freezing rain and sharp stinging sleet. Cassius looked down at his feet. They were cold and wet, but at least he had shoes. He pulled his old blanket up around his head and settled stiffly into the brown leaves. He watched Watt fiddling with a recently acquired Colt pistol. Bowlegs summoned them all back to the fortified farm house and corn cribs that occupied the center of the horseshoe bend. There they found Bowlegs bellowing orders in a mixture of languages. “The Texans have crossed the creek!” he shouted. “Our Chief is leading the people away.” Bowlegs raised his rifle above his head. “We fight them one more time. Here! We fight them very hard. Then we follow the people north!” Someone tossed Bowlegs a Creek spear. He raised it high, then thrust it point first into the sandy ground. Men shouted their assent.

Two hours later the Pins, allied Indians, and free negroes found themselves in a vicious crossfire. In bloody, close-quarter bush combat, the Texans had seized the high ground to the east of the farm and the McIntosh Creeks were holding a dense thicket to their north. Volley after volley was exchanged. The soft round balls splattered through the bush causing nasty flesh wounds by the dozens.
Cassius squatted near Watt behind a corn crib surrounded by black powder stained Pin Indians. Alligator rushed up behind them and placed his hand on Watt’s shoulder. “Not much light lef in de day,” he said hoarsely. “Dere’s a path cut through de brush. We gonna start pullin out. Ten men by ten men. When yo brothers run out – blast de Texans!” Watt nodded and spread the word and Alligator went on down the line giving instructions. Shots continued ringing out and bullets fell among them with increasing precision.
A dozen or more Texans rushed out of the underbrush, crouching low and carrying carbines. Watt and a score of Pins leaned up on one knee and fired a volley, causing some Texans to fall with bullets crashing through them and others to collapse behind trees. While Cassius made ready his shotgun, he saw one of the Pins, Billy Sunday, jerk and drop his gun. Watt held his rifle in one hand and fired a revolver rapidly at the Texans while Cassius grabbed Sunday’s foot and dragged the bleeding man behind the corn crib.

Crouching behind a tree in an elevated position, Clem Rogers watched the fight swirling around the farm house through the haze of black powder smoke. The woods around him were filling with wounded men. A young Texan lieutenant approached Clem and told him Colonel Cooper was holding an impromptu officer’s meeting further back in the woods. Clem followed the lieutenant and found the colonel and a few officers speaking in exhausted tones. They were a bedraggled but determined bunch, and every one had at least one bleeding wound.
Cooper spoke to Clem Rogers. “Do you think we can subdue these Yankee traitors?”
“Sir,” Rogers replied, “the enemy has a thousand or more warriors here in this bend and they appear to be holding their own whilst making an orderly retreat.” Cooper nodded grimly and Clem continued, “If we pursue them into this gathering dusk, we shall end the day by shooting our own men in the darkness.”
“Sir,” a Texas Captain addressed Cooper, “I’ve counted over fifty of our men killed, two hundred wounded and about a hundred downed horses.”
Cooper nodded again and said, “Goddamn those Indians.” Cooper glanced about at his worn and torn men. “We’ve given them as good as we’ve gotten. I’m confident of that.” The officers nodded and assured their colonel that was in fact the case. ”Gentlemen,” he said, “Git the boys that ain’t hurt too bad to start makin stretchers. Bring up the wagons. Let’s git these hurt men out of here.”
“Yes sir.”
“Shall we continue the pursuit sir?” The Texas captain wondered aloud.
“No, let them escape. We have taught them a lesson.”
Clem observed with few comments as the Texas Cavalry set about removing itself from the horseshoe bend. He carried his saddle and bedroll back to the morning’s camp. Sleet and hard specks of snow were falling about the weary men as they trudged back to the campfires. The Texans’ dreams of plunder – of cattle, slaves and glory – is vanishing into the sleet, smoke and darkness, Clem thought. But this land and its wealth is not their birthright, he considered, it is mine.
The next morning Clem awoke early amidst the groans of hundreds of wounded men and saddled a horse he took from the ad-hoc remuda. He rode east throughout the day, finally arriving at Colonel Watie’s camp in the early December darkness. Quickly he told the old man about the battle and how the Pins had defected and how Opotheyahola was still moving north to Kansas.
Stand Watie shook his head and laughed. “Let the black Republicans feed them then,” he said. “It is but one less concern.” Watie handed Clem a bottle and Clem drank and handed it back.
Captain William Penn Adair appeared out of the darkness, wrapped in a greatcoat and with a pained and ominous expression on his face. “Clem…cousin,” he said. “There’s been some very bad news.” He handed Clem a folded piece of paper. “It is from your wife.” Clem opened the letter and held a candle close as he read –

My Dearest Clement –
Our darling baby Elizabeth is no more. The journey from the farm to Mother’s house was too much for her to bear. She took a fever along the trail, and none among us could save her. She lies now in the cold ground, yet I live on, with a heart broken and empty arms that ache for my child. Father is sending me off to Texas in a week’s time, there to remain until this dreadful fighting is over. Until then, I live only to see your face again. May God keep you safe. Your loving wife – Mary America Rogers

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One Response to “Two new chapters on the Battle of the Caving banks”

  1. Judith Says:

    Awesome as usual. I bet you already know that the text repeated itself several times. I came out with 73 pages of story and only 13 actual…thought I was on drugs there for a while. hahaha Great story…I am really learning a lot. THANKS!!

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